Here are the first five chapters of PSY for you to read. Enjoy!
7th November 1985
It never occurred to me that I was in a cult, but now I realise there’s no other word for it. It’s all over the papers. It’s all over the news. Right now, I don’t know what’s real except this one thing: Silas is gone. They burned him alive.
I’m truly stunned. Only this afternoon was I telling him about the dissonance among the followers, and he just didn’t believe me. I should have tried harder to make him see, to make him understand. I know I’m not to blame for his death, but perhaps I could have saved him.
As I write this, I’m hiding. It seems one of the followers has already divulged details to the press. I don’t know who it was (although several people come to mind who I believe would be capable of such a thing).
The police are looking for the followers now, and they keep saying Silas was a murderer. I wish I could explain, but I know they won’t be able to see it from our point of view. The truth is that the sacrifices volunteered themselves, they wanted to contribute their life to a greater entity. They weren’t victims; they chose their path. I wish I could tell everyone this, but I’m sure the public would never believe it.
I can’t get this word out of my head… cult. They say a cult is defined by its deviant behaviour. I can’t deny our deviant beliefs, but it was our objective to inspire people to move away from the static mediocrity that seems to have taken hold in this country. That was our goal and, deviant or not, our intentions were good.
The one thing I do contest is that Silas was “disturbed.” They’re wrong. I’m certain he was a good man.
In our last conversation, Silas reminded me of his vision. He dreamed of making things better for parapsychs, and therefore the world. I truly believed he wanted to change the world for the better. And I honestly thought he was capable of doing so. If I tell anyone this now, I’ll surely be arrested. I probably shouldn’t even be writing this.
To protect my own life, I will no longer go by Lissy. I never felt a connection to the nickname anyway, but Silas took quite a liking to it. In his honour, Lissy dies here too.
I don’t know what to do.
I suppose the only thing I can do is move on. I started this diary as a record of our enterprise, so that when the shift finally happened, we would be able to look back over our story. Instead, our tale has been prematurely and violently aborted.
This will be my last entry.
I know the world is not a bad place, but we wanted to make it even better. I suppose I will do my best to make positive changes in the small ways I can. Maybe one day, someone will change the world. Today is not that day.
Fear. Anxiety. Gel pens. Jessa Baxter cycled through her most recent thoughts. Friends. Telekinesis. Dread. She glanced at her phone to see a text message from her grandparents. Good luck, Jessamine. They never got to grips with the colloquialism of texting. She noticed a weather update: storms spreading from the west. Umbrella. Jacket. Boots. No - it was too early to try remembering things. She decided to focus first on the most urgent wrongs that needed righting. Emptiness. Hunger. Breakfast.
“Surprise!” Jessa’s family yelled, far too loudly to be appropriate on an early Monday morning. Jessa stood in the doorway in her slippers and dressing gown. She rubbed her eyes and pushed the jumble of frizzy waves away from her face.
“What? What’s going on?” she said. Her mother, father, and older sister Audrey sat around the pine table that lay adorned with the kind of breakfast feast usually reserved in the Baxter house for birthdays. Jessa ogled the bacon sandwiches, cut into small triangles just the way she liked them, and a towering plate of fluffy pancakes - a breakfast treat that the Baxter family had only recently discovered on holiday in America. Mrs Baxter had even brought out her ‘special occasion’ bowl, which she generally deemed too precious (and expensive) to use. But Mrs Baxter couldn’t think of any occasion more special than the day her youngest daughter started at the most prestigious parapsych school in England.
"It's a surprise Fancy Breakfast!" Mrs Baxter clapped her hands together.
"You know how much Mum loves an excuse for Fancy Breakfast," said Audrey.
"Works for me," Jessa grabbed a sandwich and opened up the slices to dowse the bacon in ketchup, then hungrily scoffed the whole thing.
“We wanted to make sure you have a good start on your first day,” said Mr Baxter.
“First day of high school,” Mrs Baxter shook her head wistfully, “I just can't believe how fast you've grown up.”
"Mum, don't get all soppy."
"I can't help it. It's very emotional for a parent to see their youngest child getting older. It just seems like yesterday that we found out you were a parapsych! What an exciting day that was.”
“Remember Jessa's first day at PsychPlay?" said Audrey.
“I’ve never seen such a tantrum," Mr Baxter chuckled through his moustache.
"Can we please not re-live the train-set incident right now?" Jessa said.
"You were such a brat," said Audrey.
"You weren't even there!"
"Girls, girls. No hostility today, please."
"Fine, I'm sorry," said Audrey. "And to your credit, Jessa, you have matured a lot recently."
Jessa said nothing.
"I'm sorry for calling you a brat, all right?"
"All right," Jessa took an abnormally large bite of her sandwich and tiny ketchup blobs collected in the corners of her mouth.
"Maybe I can make it up to you with this,” Audrey said, retrieving a gift from its hiding place under her chair.
"I get presents?" Jessa scrabbled at the impeccably wrapped box, tearing away the shimmering paper. “No way!”
Inside the box were the shoes Jessa had been fawning over for months. She’d never been especially into clothes, but after seeing members of her favourite bands wear them onstage, the blue and red high-tops had been at the top of Jessa’s wish list.
“Thank you, they're amazing!”
"They'd better be amazing," Mr Baxter raised his wiry eyebrows. "Forty pounds for a pair of shoes!"
"Don't be a spoilsport, Daddy," said Audrey.
"They're very loud, though," said Mrs Baxter. “Will they go with many outfits?"
“Well, the lead singer of Since the Future wears them, and the guitarist of Falcon Draft wears them, so yeah, they go with everything.” Jessa pulled up the legs of her pyjamas to more efficiently put on the shoes.
“I’m not quite sure what that means,” said Mrs Baxter.
“Mum, they’re two completely different genres,” Jessa replied.
"Well, I'm glad you like them," Audrey smiled.
“I do, thank you,” Jessa replied. “But wait, why are you still here? Don’t you have classes on Mondays?”
"I told them I'd be late today so I could have breakfast at home. I’m so busy these days; I feel like I barely see all of you.”
Jessa was too busy admiring the shoes to hear Audrey’s response.
Mr Baxter pulled out something from a deep fleecy pocket of his dressing gown. “This is from your mum and me.”
Jessa quietly opened the lid, to reveal a white gold pendant. It was a flat disc, with a smaller circle inscribed into the centre. Jessa’s fingers gently turned over the charm. On the other side were three wavy lines.
“Oh,” she said. “It’s very pretty. But what is it?”
“I found it in Norway," Mrs Baxter said. "When I went over there to work at that big conference, I went to this little parapsych folklore shop in Oslo. The lady who owned the shop told me about her daughter, who’s a telepath. Anyway, I mentioned that you’ll be a telekinetic, so she showed me these pendants. Apparently, the waves are an ancient Scandinavian symbol for telekinetic powers, dating way back before humans really even knew what parapsych abilities were. She said the circle is a modern addition, and is meant to symbolise that, regardless of your powers, you are whole and beautiful.”
Jessa removed the pendant from the box.
“Do you like it?” asked her father.
“I love it,” she smiled.
Jessa held up her mess of bedhead hair so her mother could fasten the necklace clasp.
“And as we’re feeling generous, we have a little something for Audrey, too.” Mr Baxter handed a small box to his oldest daughter.
Mrs Baxter moved away from Jessa to rest her hands on Audrey’s shoulders.
"Why does Audrey get a present? It's not her first day."
"We just like to spoil our girls sometimes, that's all."
“Oh my goodness, it’s a Sheaffer,” Audrey cooed.
“How exciting,” Jessa muttered, “a pen.”
"It's a Sheaffer fountain pen," Audrey corrected.
“That’s what I said. A pen. Great," Jessa rolled her eyes.
“And it’s engraved, look,” Mrs Baxter pointed out the delicate calligraphy on the shaft.
“We know it’s not your first day of university or anything, but it is a new term in your PhD, so we thought you deserved a little present too, just to show how proud of you we are.”
“Thank you, Mum. Thank you, Daddy,” Audrey kissed her parents.
“We’re so proud of both of you. Our beautiful, intelligent girls,” Mrs Baxter took her seat again and poured her daily bowl of Fit Flakes. “Oh, and I just remembered! You’ll never guess what I heard about the people down at number 94.”
Jessa tuned out of the conversation, choosing not to pay attention to her mother’s neighbourhood gossip. She ketchuped another bacon sandwich and munched away, watching her parents and sister engage in idle chatter. She reached her hand into the fruit bowl to grab a particularly plump and juicy-looking pineapple chunk.
“Jessa, please,” Mrs Baxter interjected, “not with your fingers. That’s what the spoon is for. So anyway, the other man was appalled, of course…” Mrs Baxter continued her story.
"I guess we're done celebrating my big day, then,” Jessa murmured.
"Jessa, please don't interrupt while I'm talking to your father."
Jessa left the table with a loud huff, stomping up the stairs in her new shoes.
“What’s up with her?” said Mr Baxter.
“Hormones, probably,” Mrs Baxter dismissed. “So anyway, you won’t believe what they did next…”
To the casual observer, Winsbury Place might have seemed like any other residential block. On closer inspection of the modest facade of converted Georgian townhouses, however, the observer might just notice the simple brass plaque aside the front door that read “The Winsbury School of Parapsychology.”
Jessa cautiously approached her new school, letting the quick-stepping and going-places adults zip past her with their newspapers and morning beverages in disposable cups. Older students took advantage of the remaining fifteen minutes before the first bell, lingering in groups on the pavement, or opposite the school in Winsbury Square Park.
Jessa felt a gross flutter in her stomach, and a brush of air as others hurried past her in the foyer. A middle-aged lady teetered over and thrust her round red face close to Jessa’s.
“First year?” she squawked. Her breath smelled like coffee.
“Wonderful! Welcome!” Her dangly earrings bobbed around as she spoke. “My name’s Mrs Hoopey, and I’m the deputy headteacher. We’re so very thrilled to welcome you to Winsbury. Here’s your welcome pack. Trot along to the cafeteria, now. Help yourself to a snack and a drink, and settle down to make some wonderful new friends and some fabulous memories.”
An involuntary gulp caught in Jessa’s throat at the mention of new friends. She was the only parapsych from her middle school who had been accepted to Winsbury, and she was immediately envious of her old friends starting at high school together.
A long table in the cafeteria was already surrounded by about twenty students, each with a matching binder before them. The table was book-ended by decorative purple and gold balloon displays. Winsbury colours, Jessa had learned at the Open Evening, when she’d visited with her parents and been shown around by the captain of the Winsbury football team, who had thoroughly bored Jessa with his many tales of the inter-school football league final and “the power of purple and gold.” Winsbury had won, 4-0.
Jessa eyed a seat next to a small blonde girl. Almost everyone else at the table was deeply engaged in the artless chatter of teenagers meeting each other for the first time, but the blonde girl had empty seats either side of her and her face bore down into a book.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” said Jessa.
The girl’s face lit with a grateful and welcoming smile.
“No, please do. I’m Maggie. Nice to meet you,” she offered her hand hesitantly.
“Jessa,” she responded with a courteous shake. “What are you reading?”
“The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Have you read it?”
“What do you like to read?”
“Do you know a magazine called Loud!?”
“My brother reads it. It’s about bands and stuff, right?”
“Yeah. That’s mainly what I read.”
“Cool. Well, I can lend this to you when I’ve finished, if you like.”
Before Jessa had time to reply, a tall, pale, stern-faced woman entered the room and forced them all into silence without even saying a word. Jessa found herself sitting taut and upright, and noticed Maggie doing the same. Mrs Hoopey shuffled into the room alongside the other woman, and stood in front to announce her to the group, but Jessa remembered her from the welcome assembly at the Open Evening. She mostly remembered that she’d found the headteacher thoroughly frightening, and now, seeing her up close, even more so.
“Young ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the headteacher of Winsbury, Dr Mortlock.” Mrs Hoopey pulled out a chair for Dr Mortlock, who came forward and stood before the first-years’ staring faces.
“Good morning, students,” she said without emotion.
“Good morning, Dr Mortlock,” they responded together, polite, nervous and monotone.
Jessa wondered Dr Mortlock’s age, but it was hard to tell. Her initial appearance was austere and cold. Militant, even. In her pristine black suit and turtle-neck, she was smart but categorically old-fashioned. It wasn’t until a slight smile crept onto her face that a gentle softness came upon her.
“Welcome, and congratulations on your acceptance to the Winsbury School of Parapsychology. I’m sure you heard of Winsbury a long time ago and have known of our reputation, but now that you can see just how few first-years we admit, I hope you can fully appreciate how selective we are. Admittance to Winsbury is a great honour, and you should be very proud.”
Jessa cast her mind back to the written test. She’d left the testing room feeling dismayed at her performance, so much so that she’d been convinced at first that her acceptance letter from Winsbury must have been a mistake.
“We analysed you all by your written exams, parapsychological aptitude tests, and your personal interviews, and in the twenty-six of you, we discovered something special that we’d like to nurture.”
Jessa looked around the table and wondered how everyone else had done in the testing. Did she have the lowest grade of everyone there? Jessa Baxter was a mostly B or C student. She started racking her mind trying to remember if she’d ever been given an A in school. She did recall receiving some gold stars in playgroup, but she doubted that such high praise for correctly naming colours would be given at the Winsbury School of Parapsychology. Jessa suddenly felt very much out of her depth.
“We like to hold our first-year orientation here in the cafeteria to provide you with a more informal way in which to interact with your new classmates, and to help you relax into student life here. Please know that while we do hold you all to very high academic criteria, we want you to feel comfortable. We’ve always maintained that students should enjoy their schooling, which is one of the reasons that we have no uniform code. You may use clothing to express yourself as you wish - within reason, of course,” Dr Mortlock cast a critical glance around the table.
“You’ll be split into two form groups, and each group will be assigned one of two tutors. Students with the following names, please pay attention, as you will be in Mr Fletcher’s tutor group: Claire Adams, Sandra Allanberg, Jessamine Baxter, Elijah Cannon, Cecily Graves, Flynn Howard, Annora Huff, Phillip Jackson, Jodie O’Connor, Tonia Pitts, Thomas Stevens, Graham Townsend, and where is my number thirteen?” she trailed off, somehow lacking the final name for the group.
The students sat patiently as Dr Mortlock flipped through a couple of papers, scanning the page for the missing name.
“Aha. Margaret Turner, please make yourself known.”
“Here, miss,” Maggie croaked from Jessa’s side.
“There you are. Number thirteen. Not going to be unlucky, are you?”
Maggie’s face turned bright red under the gawp of everyone at the table.
“I…uh… hope not, miss.”
“Very well. Though I would kindly request that you never again call me “miss.” My name is Dr Mortlock, and I shan’t respond otherwise.”
Maggie looked like she might burst from embarrassment.
“Now,” Dr Mortlock continued, “those of you whose names I didn’t mention, you will be in Mrs Reid’s tutor group. Your tutors will be with you shortly. Until then, feel free to spread out around the room and chat with your comrades. Share stories, and share your abilities. This is the beginning of a very special journey.”
And with that, she stood up and strode from the room. Mrs Hoopey picked up the pile of papers and shuffled off in Dr Mortlock’s wake.
The sound of chatter slowly returned to the room.
“I’m definitely a telekinetic, but I’d love to work on my telepath skills too,” Jessa explained to Maggie as they moved to a quieter part of the cafeteria. “I know it’s pretty rare to be really good at two parabilities, but I’d still like to improve both. There’ve been a few moments where I’ve had a sense connection with someone… what’s that called again?”
“Maybe. Is that the one where you can feel someone’s emotions?”
“Oh, no, sensoreading is a form of telepathy for actual senses, like smell or hearing. I think what you’re describing is just empathism.”
“Yes, that’s it. Empathism. Thanks. So what about you?”
“I’m an empath too, though my skills are broad at the moment. I don’t really score much higher in one area than another. But I want to be a vet someday, so I’m aiming to study telepathy and healing psychism so I can be a communicari.”
“Awesome. Can you already communicate with animals at all?”
“Not really. I have a dog, but I can’t read him.”
“I heard communicariism is one of the rarest abilities.”
“Yeah, very few people are born with it. But I’ve read that once you have the foundational skills like telepathy and empathism, then communicariism is pretty learnable. My older brother makes fun of me for it, though. He’s a parapsych too but he wants to be an engineer. He thinks communicariism is silly. He calls it ‘fairy science’.”
“That’s mean,” said Jessa. “What do your parents think?”
“They’re totally supportive. They said being a vet is a very respectable career. What do you want to be?”
“I don’t really know,” Jessa shrugged.
“No bother. You have plenty of time to decide.”
“Excuse me,” said a tentative voice. The girls looked up to see a boy standing before them. “Is it okay if I sit with you?”
He waited until they agreed before pulling out a chair for himself as if totally prepared to walk away if they declined his company.
“Yeah, ‘course you can,” said Jessa.
The boy slumped into the chair with a sideways smile. “Thanks. I’m Flynn, by the way. I was at that big table, but that group is, umm… not my kind of people.”
They all looked over at a table where a girl wearing a lot of make-up was showing her classmates a hand-held device. Not only were the people at the table leaning to get a closer look, but other students were standing behind her, bending themselves to glimpse the desirable gadget.
“That’s Cecily Graves,” Flynn told them. “Apparently, her dad just gave her the new Folio smartphone. The one with the gold case.”
“Wow,” said Jessa. “I know they’re cool phones and all, but that is so bloody gaudy. It looks like a disco ball.”
“Spending that much money on a phone is what my mum calls having more money than sense,” said Flynn.
“Most importantly, it’s one hundred percent against the rules to have one in school,” Maggie declared. “It says so right here in the welcome pack,” she flipped through the pages. “Here, on the 'Rules and Regulations' page. It very plainly says that students may bring a personal device to school but it must be handed in at reception in the morning.”
“Yep,” Flynn nodded. “She’s been a student here for half an hour and she’s already breaking the rules. That’s ballsy.”
“Or stupid,” Jessa finished.
The loud clatter of desperate laughter sounded as Cecily played comedy videos on her phone. They looked over just in time to see Cecily mockingly holding her nose and wafting her hand. They couldn’t hear what she was saying, but the girl standing next to Cecily promptly ran from the room, on the verge of tears.
“Yep. Definitely not my kind of people,” Flynn reiterated.
“So Flynn,” Maggie addressed him cordially. “I’m an empath and Jessa here is a telekin. What’s your psych skill?”
“I think I’ll be a telepath,” he said, “though I have a little telekin ability that I’d love to improve.”
“Nice,” said Jessa, “I’m the opposite. When I was younger, all I wanted was to be a telepath, but telekinesis just came more naturally to me.”
“It’s pretty fun,” said Flynn. “My mum helps me practice. Sometimes she’ll think of a song and then I’ll have to try and tune-in to her thoughts and guess the song. I have to be in the exact right mood to do it at all, but hopefully one day I’ll be good. Maybe. I dunno.”
“Wow, that’s super advanced!” Maggie marvelled. “You’re definitely above average for your age.”
Mr Fletcher and Mrs Reid entered the cafeteria together.
“All right, everyone! I’m Mr Fletcher. All of you in my class, gather your things, follow me and get ready for the grand tour.”
Mr Fletcher’s thirteen students scuffled close to him in little steps into the main entrance hallway. Jessa was disappointed to see Cecily Graves in her tutor group.
“Over here we have Mrs Pacey, she’s the school administrator and runs the reception. If you have any scheduling, technological, or attendance issues, she’s the one to speak to.”
Mrs Pacey waved at the students then quickly turned back to her devices. Her fingers ran swiftly and delicately between the glassy computer surfaces and the silvery matte trackpad on the desk in front of her.
Mr Fletcher walked the group down the main hallway and let them poke their heads into the library. Like most of the first-years, Jessa had toured Winsbury before applying, but the facilities seemed even more real and exciting now she was there as a real student. The library was so contemporary compared to the childish one at Jessa’s middle school, which had cartoon animals painted on the walls and ragged, fading books on rickety shelves. Especially for such a small school, the Winsbury library was expansive and full of light streaming in through a wall of windows at the far end that looked out into the school gardens.
Mr Fletcher pointed down the hallway to the left of the library, explaining that this was the way to the gymnasium (a fact that Jessa dismissed somewhat, as she planned to spend as little time as possible in the gymnasium.)
The tour continued up the staircase, to the first floor. The stairway opened to a spacious landing area with a few clusters of squishy-looking beanbag chairs in front of big arched windows.
In the corner of the open space was a wall of ultramodern lockers, each with a small screen next to the handle notch. Every locker had a small light display on the screen, some showing yellow and some green.
“Everyone choose a locker with a green light,” Mr Fletcher instructed, and the thirteen students each stood before the locker of their choice. Jessa, Maggie and Flynn all crouched to the lower, less popular row so they could secure neighbouring lockers.
“Tap the screen once until the light flashes, then hold your index finger on the middle of the screen until it stops flashing. This will be your locker, and only you can open it.”
Each of the lockers flashed with recognition, welcoming their new keepers. Welcome, Baxter, J., Welcome, Turner, M., Welcome, Howard, F.
Mr Fletcher led them to the end of the East Wing corridor, to his personal classroom, their tutor group home for the next four years. The tables each had space for just two students, and Jessa and Maggie immediately chose a table together at the front of the class.
Flynn paused and looked around the room. He was the only one left without a seating partner.
“Here, Flynn, take this one,” Jessa moved across to the next table.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yeah, definitely. I’m left-handed anyway, so it’s better for me if I sit on this side.”
“Thanks,” he slid into the seat Jessa had vacated.
Flynn copied Maggie and took out a pencil-case and notebook from his bag. The pencil-case was a worn brown leather that reminded Jessa of something her grandfather might have. In fact, many things about Flynn reminded her of someone a lot older; the large over-ear headphones that he clipped to his backpack, his well-worn trainers that looked like they might have been purchased in a supermarket.
Everything about Flynn was a little peculiar.
His dishevelled brown hair was mousy and unstylish by most teenagers’ standards, and with a closer look at his yellow and blue striped polo shirt, Jessa noticed it was a little bobbly and dull around the collar. While everyone else in the class, herself included, was dressed up in the brand-spanking-new, Flynn seemed a little faded among the technicolour.
Maggie and Flynn were both a little odd, Jessa thought, but one thing was certain, and Flynn’s words came back into her mind. Her kind of people.
“Sorry the room is so bare right now,” Mr Fletcher told the class. “I’m new here myself.”
His dark blond hair looked crunchy with gel, and he was much more stylish than any of the other teachers. Plenty of the girls in the class were already swooning.
He handed out lesson schedules and talked through all the day’s announcements, including details of extracurricular clubs and societies. Maggie urgently scribbled down notes, though Jessa couldn’t tell what she could possibly be making notes about.
Mr Fletcher swiped through pages on his netpad, his eyes flitting back and forth over the screen, scanning for any other pertinent information.
“So I think that’s everything I have to tell you. Does anyone have any questions for me?”
“Yeah,” a tanned boy drawled. “Are you a parapsych?”
“Yes,” said Mr Fletcher, “I’m a telekin. But perhaps more importantly, I consider my main attribute to be that I’m a massive Parapsych History nerd. Which means, aside from seeing you every morning for attendance and our PSE sessions on Mondays, you’ll come to me for your weekly Parapsych History lessons, too. And further down the line, maybe we’ll see each other more often if you decide to continue with me at P-Level!”
“No history buffs, eh?”
Apparently, even Maggie couldn’t admit to being a history buff.
“Fine. Any other questions?”
“How old are you?” asked a girl from the back of the room.
“I don’t think that’s releva—”
“Are you single?” Cecily Graves interrupted him.
“That’s definitely not relevant,” he said quickly and turned around before the students noticed the blush in his cheeks.
Jessa was grateful when the bell rang for lunch. Despite her morning breakfast feast, she was starting to feel a grumble in her stomach.
By the time Jessa, Maggie, and Flynn arrived, the cafeteria was already quite full and loud with the hubbub of post-holiday catch-up, the clinking of cutlery on plates, and hands rustling in crisp packets.
The three of them took their place in the queue and surveyed the food options that shone under the yellow heat lamps.
“What can I get for you lovely young ladies?” said a blithe older woman behind the counter.
“Chicken pie and mash, please,” said Jessa.
“Veggie pie and mash, please,” added Maggie.
“And for you, kiddo?” the server looked over at Flynn.
His eyes searched from tray to tray and label to label. “Umm, nothing for me,” he said, “I don’t really fancy anything. I’ll go and find us a table.”
“Are you sure?” Jessa asked, but he was already walking away toward the cashier, where he quickly picked up just an apple and a bag of cheesy crackers.
“Excuse me,” Jessa turned back to the lady behind the counter, “can I have a cheese and ham roll, too?”
“Looks like you’ve built up quite an appetite today!” she responded cheerfully, placing a roll on a plate for Jessa.
Jessa stabbed open the pastry lid of her pie to let the steam out. She noticed Flynn looking over at her plate.
“Is that going to be enough food for you, Flynn?” Maggie asked.
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” he said loudly. “I’m not overly hungry.”
He took another bite of his apple and chewed slowly.
“Well, if you change your mind,” said Jessa, “I don’t think I’ll manage this sandwich.”
“Oh,” he hesitated. “Really?”
“Yeah. It looked really good, with this big thick cheddar slice in, and the roll looked nice and soft, but I had eyes bigger than my belly.” She scooted the plate over towards him. “Here, why don’t you take it? If you want it, I mean. I’d hate for it to go to waste.”
“Yeah. Okay,” he said. “If you really don’t want it.”
Jessa and Maggie shared a subtle smile.
But it wasn’t subtle enough. Flynn looked mortified.
Without a word, he took a bite, then pulled a textbook from his bag and put his head forward to read.
Jessa walked out of school with Maggie, whose entire family were waiting outside to take her to The Pizza Shack for a special first-day-of-school dinner. They said their goodbyes and then Jessa, too, headed off toward home.
A wave of tiredness crashed over her, and she suddenly regretted not training herself to wake up earlier each morning in preparation for the new term at school. “I’ll try,” she’d said to her mother. And for the past week, she had tried. Sort of. She had, at least, set her alarm for 6:45. And every day it went off at 6:45. And then again at 6:55, 7:05, and 7:15, at which point Jessa had, every day, given up on the snooze button and slept in until ten.
She trudged out of her daydream about bedtime and noticed up ahead a familiar yellow and blue polo shirt.
“Flynn!” she called out to him, but he couldn’t hear her over the music in his headphones. She jogged to catch up with him and tapped his arm.
“Oh, hi, Jessa.”
“How’s it going?”
“Fine thanks. Look, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you at lunch.”
“It was nothing,” he shook his head.
“I really didn’t mean to make you feel weird.”
“I know you were just trying to be nice, but honestly? Yeah, it made me feel weird. I just don’t want everyone to think that I’m like a…” he trailed off.
“Like a what?”
“I don’t know. Everyone at Winsbury has loads of money. I don’t want everyone to think I’m poor.”
“Nobody thinks you’re poor.”
“‘course they do. My clothes aren’t new; my mum cuts my hair… I know what I look like. And usually it doesn’t bother me because none of that stuff is important anyway, but sometimes it makes me feel rubbish. I especially don’t want my friends to feel sorry for me.”
“It’s hard not to feel sorry for people, though.”
“I guess,” he shrugged. “But being treated like a charity case makes me feel really pathetic.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think of it that way. I never thought of you as a charity case. I actually think you’re pretty cool. And I like your clothes. And I like your doofy haircut.”
“I’m serious!” she said.
“Okay,” he smiled.
“Oh hey, this is where I turn off. I live down the road here.”
“Cool. I live up that way,” he pointed in the opposite direction.
“See you at school tomorrow, then.”
“Yeah, see you!” he waved.
“Yeah?” she spun around.
“I forgot to say thanks. For the sandwich. I did appreciate it,” he gave her a thumbs up of gratitude.
She smiled and gave him an exaggerated thumbs up in return.
It had been three weeks since the first day at Winsbury, and Cecily Graves had become the most popular - and the most feared - student in school. Even having her brand new Folio smartphone confiscated three times and getting a succession of demerits for inappropriate clothing hadn’t knocked her spirits. Quite the opposite, in fact, she seemed to relish the notoriety, and it wasn’t long before rumours began to take on lives of their own. Someone heard that Cecily Graves had a modelling contract at a big agency; someone else heard that Cecily Graves made a fourth-year cry; someone else heard that Cecily Graves owned an apartment in Mayfair. Nobody was sure where these rumours came from, but everybody knew about Cecily Graves.
“I heard her dad is one of the richest people in the country,” Maggie said to Jessa and Flynn as they walked together up the stairs to the first floor.
“Me too,” Jessa added. “Apparently, he just made billions more by building this mega hotel in the Middle East. That’s where her family is going for the Christmas break. They’re visiting one of their new resorts in Dubai.”
“How do you know all this about her?” Flynn asked.
“I dunno. Just heard it.”
“But where? Who says these things?”
“Everyone,” Maggie stated.
“Yeah, just people,” Jessa shrugged.
“Oh, right. Everyone and people. Sounds like a reliable source.”
They made their way down the East Wing corridor. While the tutor groups at Winsbury were small, the whole class of twenty-six first years came together for subject classes. They entered room East 4, for Philosophy and Ethics, where Miss Farrell was waiting to greet them at the door.
“Come in, come in!” she invited. “Let’s get settled and started.”
Jessa, Maggie and Flynn took their usual seats in the front row of the classroom.
“So last week we were thinking about Law,” Miss Farrell said. “Who remembers the name we give to the idea that there’s an innate law inside all of us?”
Flynn raised his hand a little, and Miss Farrell looked at him inquiringly.
“Natural Law,” he said.
“Exactly,” Miss Farrell continued. “Natural Law, as we learned, is the theory of using reason to think about our moral behaviour.” She glanced at Jessa, whose face was tense with concentration.
“Don’t worry if this doesn’t all make much sense yet. Philosophy is complicated. But I want you to have the concept of Natural Law at the back of your mind. Because as long as there have been people, there’s been philosophy. And it was the earliest philosophers who paved the way to our current system of Parapsychological Law, which, I’m sure you know, is an incredibly interesting and constantly evolving area of research and legislation.”
Jessa appreciated Miss Farrell’s enthusiasm, but they were only just touching on entry-level philosophy, and she was already having difficulty understanding the concepts. She was reassured, though, to look back at her classmates to see that everyone else looked as apprehensive as she felt.
“Seriously,” the teacher continued, “don’t worry. I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds. So let’s open our textbooks to page 32.”
Jessa opened the page to see a large heading:
FOUR LAWS OF PARAPSYCHOLOGICAL CONSTITUTION
“Even if you’re not aware of the exact wording of the Laws, you’ve all been raised in accordance with them, even if your parents are lateral.” Miss Farrell’s subtle accent gave a pleasant softness and storytelling quality to her voice, though Jessa couldn’t tell where she was from. Ireland, perhaps. Or Scotland. Or maybe Canada? Jessa had never been good at accents.
“The remarkable thing about Parapsychological Law is how it’s been created as part of the whole judicial system, and our entire society has benefitted from it. Of course, there have been some, shall we say, dark moments, in our past, and you’ll learn more about some of those in your history lessons. But it’s crucial to remember that atrocities in the world have been committed by parapsychs and laterals alike. We all have the ability to destroy, just as much as we all have the choice to unify. When you look back far enough, you realise that as humans, we are all family.”
Miss Farrell’s words reminded Jessa of her mum. She was always talking about family. Jessa had never really thought about it before, but she was the only one in her immediate family to have parapsych abilities, and her best friends throughout primary and middle school were laterals, so she’d never felt any disconnect between herself and any lateral.
Jessa looked to her right and saw Flynn gazing at Miss Farrell in admiration, and she couldn’t tell whether he was focussed on the teacher’s words or her glossy red lips as she spoke. Miss Farrell was known for being the prettiest teacher in school, charming many of the male students with her good looks and gentle personality, while the girls marvelled at her dramatic style choices and swooned over the hefty diamond ring on her left hand that often glinted in the light as she gestured.
Miss Farrell turned her attention to the statements printed in the textbook and read them aloud.
It is a legal requirement for children with parapsychological abilities to Register with the National Parapsychological Association (NPA) as a Person of Parapsychology Ability (PPA) within one calendar month of their 14th birthday.
Registered child citizens are required by law to enrol in a high school certified by the National Parapsychological Association’s Education Institute.
It is a criminal offence to discriminate against or prosecute any member of society based on their parapsychological classification.
It is a criminal offence for any Person of Parapsychological Ability:
(i) to use their parapsychological abilities for personal gain if the act violates any other law, or:
(ii) to conceal their parapsychological abilities in order to gain an unfair advantage in any business-related or otherwise financial transaction.
“I’m glad I’m not a cat,” said Jessa, “because that lesson would have cost me one of my nine lives.”
“What are you talking about?” Maggie said. “I thought it was great! Miss Farrell is so good at making things interesting. Plus, I love when teachers make us do role-play, it makes the content so much easier to get to grips with.”
“Ugh, no,” Jessa pulled a face. “I hate role-play. I like Miss Farrell a lot, but I just don’t get any of this philosophy stuff. It’s too hard. What do you think, Flynn?”
“Uh oh, I think Flynn’s busy thinking about a certain Philosophy and Ethics teacher.”
“I am not!” he blushed. “I was thinking about the Four Laws, actually.”
“Yeah, sure,” Jessa nudged him. “The Four Laws of lo-o-ove!”
“Shut up!” he quickly walked ahead, leaving the girls laughing behind him.
They caught up with him at the lockers.
“Shoot,” Maggie fumbled with an armful of possessions and her binder covered in dog stickers smacked to the ground. She crouched to pick it up and unwittingly putting herself in the path of Cecily Graves.
“Watch it!” Cecily snarled.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Maggie apologised, looking up as Cecily shadowed over her.
“What’s wrong with you?” said Cecily. “Were you too busy daydreaming about puppies to watch where you were going?”
“No, I—” Maggie stammered, clutching the binder to her chest, trying to cover up the images on its outside. “I just—”
“You just what?” Cecily interrupted, stepping uncomfortably close to Maggie.
Jessa put her arm in between the two of them, shielding her friend from Cecily’s intrusive lean.
“Calm down, Cecily, it was an accident. We were just chatting about the lesson and didn’t hear you behind us, that’s all.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right. Blabbing away about Miss Farrell’s nonsense laws. Typical.”
“What?” Jessa said. “They’re not nonsense laws, they’re real laws that we all live by.”
Cecily lowered her voice. “Without those laws, my father would be the richest man in the world.”
“That would make your father a criminal,” Jessa said plainly, narrowing her eyes into Cecily’s glare.
“Not if the laws favoured parapsychs,” Cecily sneered, “as they should.”
“Is everything okay here?” came the familiar voice of Mr Fletcher behind them.
“Yes, Mr Fletcher!” Cecily said sweetly.
“Glad to hear it,” he said, looking straight through her innocent ruse. “You should probably head downstairs for lunch.”
“Yes, sir,” she flashed a coquettish smile, but he didn’t react. He waited until Cecily had disappeared down the staircase.
“You all right, Maggie?”
“Yeah I’m fine.” She looked down. “It was nothing.”
“It wasn’t. But don’t worry,” said Mr Fletcher. “I heard everything.”
“Do you think she meant that?” Flynn asked the girls once they’d found an empty picnic bench in the Winsbury garden. “I mean, do you think her family really believes that parapsychs should be treated differently?”
“Maybe,” said Maggie, putting down the apple slice she was just about to bite into. “My mum’s a primary school teacher in Hammersmith, and she told me a story about these parents who pulled their kid out of school and said they’d homeschool him until he was Registered and could go to a psych school. Apparently he was kind of a late bloomer, so at first, it didn’t seem like he was a parapsych at all, even though both his parents were. Then once they found out he was, they took him out of school so he couldn’t mix with the other kids.”
“That seems excessive,” said Flynn. “There still would have been other parapsych kids in that school for him to play with, right?”
“Yeah,” Jessa joined in. “And if they wanted him to spend more time around parapsychs, what about like a Sunday school like PsychPlay? I went to one of those, and it was great.”
“Me too,” said Flynn.
“So did I,” Maggie replied. “But I don’t know. That’s just what my mum said. They wanted him to spend less time around laterals because they thought that’s what stunted his parapsychism. I suppose some people are just sensitive about that kind of thing.”
“Wow, I can’t imagine having that sort of reaction,” Jessa pondered. “I’m the only psych in my family. I can’t imagine someone feeling that way about them.”
“Same,” said Flynn. “Maggie, you have other parapsychs in your family, right?”
“Both of my brothers are, and so’s my Mum, but Dad’s a lateral, and so are most of my cousins. I agree with you. For someone to have that kind of thought is just so… I don’t know…”
“Heartless,” said Jessa.
Jessa and Flynn left school together. They walked through Winsbury Square Park and out the other side onto Gramercy Street, toward their homes. After a few moments of meandering in a comfortable silence, Jessa spoke.
“Do you think Cecily is pretty?”
“I haven’t really thought about it. Why?”
“Because it’s like everyone thinks she’s amazing and wants to hang out with her.”
“Do you think she’s amazing?” he asked.
“Do you want to hang out with her?”
“No, that sounds like a nightmare,” she snickered.
“Well there you go,” Flynn smiled. “People like her because she’s rich and fashionable and loud. It’s a status thing, isn’t it? She acts like she’s better than everyone else, and her confidence makes other people want to be with her. But she’s totally arrogant, and can also be really mean, so maybe they’re just afraid of her.”
“Yeah. You’re probably right.”
“I’m definitely right. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m always right.” He flashed her a big grin.
“Oh yeah? Now who’s the arrogant one?” Jessa laughed.
“Honestly, though, both you and Maggie are prettier than Cecily,” he said without a hint of a blush on his cheeks.
“No way,” Jessa scoffed. “Maggie is, but not me.”
“What did I just say? I’m always right, remember? Cecily has a pretty face, but it’s ruined by her mean expressions and all the terrible things she says. So yeah, I guess she’s pretty on the outside, but underneath it, she’s a really ugly person.” He paused for a moment, then sighed. “You and Maggie are the only people in school who have been properly nice to me. Even in primary school, people were only friendly when they had to be.”
Jessa’s heart cramped at the thought of a young Flynn with no friends.
“Nobody wanted to play with me. They’d say that I smelled bad, or I had fleas. Stupid stuff, but it hurt. Before I started at Winsbury I was scared I’d spend the next four years eating my lunch alone, but you and Maggie sit with me every day. I’m just trying to say that it doesn’t matter if people judge you or me, or if they think Cecily is great. Just be a good person and don’t worry about anything else.”
Jessa pulled Flynn’s bony torso toward her own. Her arms awkwardly grasped around his backpack in a weird hug, then they said their goodbyes and walked away.
Jessa turned over the page on her calendar and unthinkingly clenched her fist in excitement as the highlighted box for October 31st came into view. Since she was very young, Halloween had been Jessa’s second favourite time of year, closely following Christmas. As far as she was concerned, it was even better than collecting chocolate eggs at Easter, and even more fun than counting down to the New Year wearing silly glasses and hats. So, in honour of their youngest daughter’s strange love for the holiday, Mr and Mrs Baxter had, every year, gone out of their way to make it an extra special occasion. Mrs Baxter, whose professional career was in events management, seemed never to tire of party planning, and this Halloween was no exception. It was to be the biggest Baxter party yet.
“Have you decided on your costume, Jessa?” Jean Baxter asked her daughter, handing her a box of Cinnamon Twist.
“Yes,” Jessa replied matter-of-factly. “I think I want to be a zombie this year.”
Audrey looked up from a large book and grimaced.
“Do you have a problem with that?” Jessa retorted.
“No...” Audrey rolled her eyes.
“Do you want a costume this year, too, Audrey?” their mother asked the oldest sister.
“No, thanks, I’ll just be a doctor. I can bring my lab coat home and wear that.”
“Again?!” Jessa exclaimed. “Doctor Bored-rey, paging Doctor Bored-rey to the operating room, stat!”
“Firstly,” Audrey placed the book onto the table with a loud plop, “I wouldn’t get paged verbally because that makes no sense. And secondly, some of us have work to do, Jessa, and we don’t have time to worry about Halloween costumes.”
“Whatever you say, Doctor Bored-rey.”
“Jessa, please,” Audrey glared at her younger sister. Jessa muttered something under her breath, but it was drowned out by the tinkling of cinnamon squares tumbling into her bowl.
“Oh, you girls,” Mrs Baxter sighed. “Thirteen years and—”
“And worlds apart,” Jessa finished. “We know.”
“Well it’s true, you two are so different, sometimes I still wonder if there was a mix—”
“A mixup at the hospital. We know. You need some new catchphrases, Mum.”
Mrs Baxter playfully swatted her youngest daughter on the back of her head, then her face showed concern as she turned to Audrey.
“Sweetheart, maybe the university is putting too much pressure on you.”
“It’s what I need to do, Mum.”
“I just worry about you.”
“There’s no need, I’m fine,” Audrey assured her.
Despite always having an intelligence level above average for her age, Audrey was also introverted, shy, and an overachiever. She’d only ever scored the highest grades possible in every exam, a fact of which Jessa had been reminded throughout her whole life.
Jessa stared into her cereal bowl, swishing the little squares around in the milk. “I got an A on my parapsych physics project,” she blurted out. Her face immediately heated up with shame at her lie. She had actually received a very respectable B- on the project, but she knew that wasn’t enough to compete with Audrey.
“That’s wonderful, Jessa!” her mother beamed proudly. “What did that entail, then?”
“Well, we’ve been learning about waves and frequency and stuff, so we’re learning how that applies to telekinesis. Some of the others aren’t very good because they’re not good telekins, but I am.”
“I’m so glad you’re doing well,” Mrs Baxter smiled. “So do you get to work on your abilities much in lessons?”
“Not really. Not yet, anyway. We have science lessons, but it’s mostly theory at the moment, like how the sciencey stuff explains the parapsychey stuff.”
“That all sounds very interesting. And do you think it’s helping with your telekinesis?”
“I mean, my psych skills aren’t strong yet, but yeah, I think I’m getting better.”
“Gosh, it’s so fascinating. Don’t you think it’s fascinating, Audrey?” Mrs Baxter asked. But before Audrey could reply, she was distracted by the sound of a loud buzz as her phone vibrated on the table. She swiped the screen up to reveal the message, and smiled cautiously to herself, before swiping away the message before her mother or Jessa could see.
“Was that you-know-who?” Mrs Baxter squeezed her hands around her mug.
“Mmhmm,” Audrey giggled. Jessa raised her eyebrows at her sister’s sudden girlishness. Audrey never giggled.
“What’s going on? Who’s the text from?” she asked.
“Audrey has a new boyfriend!” their mother jabbered.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it! But it’s all right, Jessa can keep a secret. We haven’t had any Baxter girl talk in a while.”
“Fine, yes, I’m seeing someone,” Audrey said. “But I still don’t want to say too much. He’s very handsome, though, I can tell you that.”
“What’s his name?” Mrs Baxter prodded for more information.
“His name is Hugo.”
“Hugo?” Jessa mocked. “Is he another Cambridge posh boy?”
“No, he didn’t go to Cambridge,” Audrey snapped. “But even if he did, there’s nothing wrong with being well educated.”
“Does he wear tweed? Does he have a monocle? Does he wear a top hat to dinner?”
“Come on, Jessa,” Audrey rolled her eyes.
Jessa checked that their mother had turned away and then poked her tongue out at Audrey.
The final lesson of the day on Monday afternoon was art, which was always a really fun way to not do much work. And everyone liked Ms Storm, the art teacher, even when she thoroughly perplexed them with all her constant allusions to Mother Earth and artistic spirit guides. So, nobody was surprised that Ms Storm wanted to take advantage of an uncharacteristically warm October day by taking the students outside to draw leaves.
The Winsbury garden was small but elegantly maintained by Tony, the school’s caretaker and groundskeeper. Formed by the Winsbury School building on one side, and a tall ivy-covered wall around the other sides, the garden was a sanctuary. The sound of Central London commotion faded into the background, hidden by the rippling whispers of trees and bushes, and the lazy burble of the miniature waterfall.
Jessa, Flynn, and Maggie rustled through the fallen foliage to find leaves with the best colour-to-shape ratio, then retired to their favourite corner of the garden, next to the old stone archway that they were convinced hardly anybody else knew about. Jessa sat cross-legged on the old wooden bench, with her sketchbook balanced between her knees. Flynn took the other end of the bench, and Maggie spread out her chunky cable-knit cardigan on the paving stones to use as a blanket.
“Do you mind if we sit with you?” a voice asked.
Tonia Pitts and Annora Huff stood before them, leaves in one hand, sketchbooks in the other.
“Not at all,” Maggie was the first to welcome the pair.
Tonia took the place between Jessa and Flynn on the bench, while Annora simply plopped herself onto the ground, her skirt billowing like a little parachute on her way down.
“Thanks,” said Tonia. “Cecily’s back there talking about her Halloween party. It was driving me mad.”
“And she’s talking about it extra loud to make us feel bad,” Annora added. “I think we’re the only people who aren’t invited.”
Jessa had spoken to Tonia many times before, and found her to be very friendly, if a little blunt, but she realised that this was probably her first ever interaction with the usually shy and quiet Annora.
“Nah,” Jessa replied. “We didn’t get invited either. Do you want to come to my party instead? It’s at my house, and it’s going to be really fun. Here…” she scribbled down her address onto a blank sheet from her sketchbook and ripped it out for Annora and Tonia (on the assumption that the two of them were always together, so they probably wouldn’t mind sharing the one invitation).
“Cool, thanks!” Tonia folded up the paper and slipped it into her bag.
“Sorry I didn’t properly invite you,” Jessa said sheepishly. “I honestly thought everyone was going to Cecily’s party, so I didn’t bother asking anyone else.”
“Yeah right,” Tonia said through teeth clamped around the pencil end she was chewing. “You’d have to pay me to go to that.”
“I wouldn’t go, even for a hundred pounds,” Annora stated.
“A hundred?” Tonia thought about it. “Make it two, then I’ll go to Cecily’s. But don’t worry, Jessa, I’ll go to yours for free.”
Jessa counted down the days. The party was set to have the best turnout of any Baxter gathering in recent history. Her four friends from school were coming, in addition to some of the neighbours who had children close to her age, and some aunts and uncles and cousins always came along. Audrey’s best friend Sarah usually turned up for a little while, which Jessa always enjoyed because Sarah was a medical student and had plenty of gory stories about freak accidents and flesh-eating infections.
Everyone at school except Jessa and her friends was totally compelled by the unrelenting gossip about Cecily’s party. Apparently, Cecily Graves’ party was being held in the ballroom of her father’s newly acquired hotel. Apparently, there would be a famous pop singer performing. Apparently, a world-renowned designer had personally created a series of dresses for Cecily to wear throughout the evening.
On the contrary, the most famous person invited to Jessa’s party was probably her Uncle Morris, who lived up north and once won first prize in a pie-making contest. But Jessa kept her invitees interested every way she could, with mentions of her mother’s best homemade spread of sandwiches, mini pizzas and cakes, and a family friend who was bringing a top-of-the-range FolioMax Hologram system with all the good party games. If they were lucky, Jessa’s telekinetic Auntie Stella might even have one-too-many shandies and treat everyone to her infamous floating cups routine.
Saturday, October 31st finally arrived, and Jessa spent all afternoon making up her zombie face into a perfectly gruesome mess of fake bruises, dried blood and flaking skin. She rubbed baby powder into her long hair and brushed out the waves to make a grey frizzy mass that protruded from all over her head. She pulled on an old shirt of her father’s that she’d purposefully dirtied with shoe polish and some strategic rips, and finished the look with a drizzling of fake blood over her chin and down the front of the shirt.
At exactly 5 pm, Flynn arrived at the door.
Jessa stared at his costume. “What are you?”
“Can’t you tell? I’m a ghost!”
“Oh,” she looked closer as Flynn stepped into the light of the house and she realised he was wearing a little makeup to lighten his skin and darken his eyes. “You look a lot like regular Flynn, though.”
“Well yeah, just because I’m a ghost doesn’t mean I’d look different. I’m Ghost Flynn.”
“All right then, Ghost Flynn. Give me your coat. What do you think of my costume?”
“You look quite disgusting.”
Flynn was greeted warmly by Mr and Mrs Baxter, dressed as a pirate and wench respectively, who immediately pulled him to the buffet table and handed him a paper plate. Just a few minutes later, the doorbell rang again. Jessa opened it to Maggie, wearing a hand-sewn cat costume, complete with collar, tail and ears, and a painted face with suitably cat-like eyes and whiskers.
“Meow,” she presented a bottle of cola. “I brought fizzy pop. I know you have plenty, but it’s polite to bring an offering for your host.”
Tonia and Annora ran up the driveway just behind Maggie.
“You guys didn’t dress up?!” Jessa exclaimed.
“Yeah, we did!” Tonia splayed out her arms under a colourful cape.
“We’re each other!” Annora curtseyed in Tonia’s denim skirt.
It wasn’t long before the other guests had arrived, and the entire downstairs of 88 Duke Avenue was buzzing with the sound of friends and family and neighbours, some meeting for the first time, some reuniting after long whiles apart, and some who saw each other regularly but still found reason to celebrate. Even Annora, who Jessa suspected would be too timid to enjoy the party, had a great time and turned out to be a commendable guest, beating all the other players and defeating the hologram Dance King in the FolioMax DanceOff tournament. Everything was going perfectly until Jessa noticed Audrey take off her lab coat and remove the stethoscope from around her neck. Reduced to her regular clothing, Audrey said goodbye to a handful of people and walked toward the front door.
“Why are you leaving?” she asked as Audrey’s hand unlatched the front door.
“Sorry Jess, I have plans with Hugo tonight.”
“He can come here! Invite him to the party!”
“I don’t think so. He hasn’t met Mum and Dad yet, and I don’t want to put too much pressure on him.”
“So this is the perfect way for them to meet him. It’s so casual.”
“Yeah, but still no. Not tonight, Jessa. Maybe another time,” she walked up the path towards the front gate. Her zombie sister still followed.
“Audrey, why are you being weird?”
“What do you mean?” she turned around. “I’m not doing anything, I just—”
“Yes you are,” Jessa interrupted. “You’re being weird with me. We met your old boyfriend, why can’t we meet this one?”
Audrey resigned. “Fine, I’ll tell you. I suppose you had to find out eventually.”
“Find out what?”
“You kind of… already know him,” she said quietly.
“What? What are you talking about? I don’t know anyone called Hugo.”
“No,” Audrey paused. “You know him as Mr Fletcher.”
“I still can’t believe she would go out with my teacher.”
“I can’t believe this is still bugging you,” Maggie replied.
“It’s just weird!” Jessa exclaimed, en route to their Friday afternoon Parapsych Skills lesson. Maggie and Flynn had both been sympathetic towards Jessa’s feelings, especially after hearing that Mr Fletcher had joined their family for dinner one evening during the week, - and everyone agreed that seeing a teacher outside of school is weird anyway, let alone having them in the house for dinner - but Jessa’s annoyance was starting to get old.
“Jessa,” said Flynn, “I know this is strange for you, but think about it from Audrey’s point of view.”
“Like how?” Jessa snapped back. “From the point of view of someone who manages to make my life difficult without even realising it?”
“Exactly, she didn’t realise it. She didn’t do it on purpose. Didn’t you say they met at a library? It’s not like she came here and found a boyfriend deliberately to get on your nerves.”
“Well no, but—”
“And then she kept it from you because she knew it would upset you. She was trying to protect you from that.”
Jessa stayed quiet.
“Jessa…” Maggie said cautiously. “It sounds like Audrey really likes him. And we do too, remember? He’s super nice, and helpful, and intelligent. He’s total boyfriend material. Ask any of the girls in our school.”
“Ugh,” Jessa sighed. Maggie was right, she did like Mr Fletcher. Everyone did. “Fine, maybe I got a bit carried away. But it’s still weird to be friendly with a teacher outside of school.”
“Yes, we agree with you on that,” said Maggie.
“I don’t think it’s that weird,” said Flynn. “Teachers are just people.”
“Still, I hope nobody else finds out apart from you two.”
The first-years usually only went to the second floor for maths and science lessons, but once a week they ventured down the opposite corridor to 2nd Floor East, for Parapsych Skills with Ms Alzamora. Each of the five Parapsych labs was a base for the school’s most renowned teachers - acclaimed parapsychs in their own right - and whose lessons were mostly reserved for the fourth and fifth-year students studying P-Levels.
Professor Winton, the oldest and wisest teacher in the school, taught Telekinesis, and he was known for training students so well that even those with very minimal ability would be able to easily levitate small-to-medium objects by the time they graduated. Dr Hoover was the Telepathy teacher. She was most known for her harrowing stare and for occasionally making students cry. Undoubtedly, the students’ favourite parapsych teacher was the loud and rambunctious communicari, Mrs Tobias, whose Caribbean upbringing inspired her colourful personality and vibrant outfits. Her lessons in the animal communication parascience were highly anticipated by all the pet-loving students. The newest professor to the department was Dr Fish, who was relatively famous in the scholarly world for his work in the healing parasciences, which Jessa had discovered when Maggie emailed her a link to Dr Fish’s most recent paper, ‘Synaptic efficacy in post-surgery parapsychs’, as soon as the latest quarterly edition of The Journal of Parapsych Healing was available. Maggie strongly urged Jessa to sign up for email alerts from the Journal. Jessa declined.
Finally, there was Ms Alzamora. She was not as bookish as the other Parapsych Lab teachers, nor as acclaimed. The students liked her, but there was something vaguely dishevelled about her that didn’t command quite the same authority as the others. Her dark curly hair wound tightly to her head, and her handmade smocks always bilged out from her slim form, making her look shapeless and wide. She spoke with an ambiguous accent that made her seem worldly and well-traveled in a way that Jessa found particularly compelling.
She welcomed the first-years graciously into her lab and watched as they took their regular seats.
“Wait. What are we doing today?” she asked as a curtain of confusion fell over her face. “Oh yes, I remember. Today we’ll be working on some open-mind practice, building on what you’ve begun investigating in both physics and biology lessons. What we call ‘open-mind practice’ is also used by advanced parapsychs as a basis for telepathic communication, clairvoyance and auto-writing, among other things, so if you can get really good at it, it can be extremely useful.”
Jessa found the phrase ‘open-mind’ fascinating. While she’d always had some essence of a telekinetic mind ability, the idea of having an open mind captivated her.
“So!” Ms Alzamora announced loudly. “Find a partner!”
Jessa, Maggie and Flynn groaned. They hated when teachers told them to find a partner. Usually, it meant they’d get split up, and one of them would have to work with Gray Townsend, who was the third wheel to Eli and Cecily’s pairing, since they’d recently started dating.
None of them disliked Gray, but he was a difficult partner because he was always too busy making jokes or gaseous sounds or saying “wait, man, you have to check out this song, it’ll blow your mind.” Jessa wasn’t too bothered, but Maggie particularly hated working with him.
“It appears we’re missing one of our classmates today,” said the teacher. “So you three at the front can work as a group.”
“Yessss,” Jessa hissed quietly.
“Now, let’s push the tables against the wall so we have some floor space. Then pick out a cushion or bolster from the storage cupboard, and settle down opposite your partner. Make sure you’re comfortable but rigid. Sit strong! Strong posture brings a strong mind!”
She minced around the room and handed out cards, on which were printed a plain white circle on a black background.
Before making any further instruction, she pressed play on a sound system at the front of the classroom, and the tranquillising sound of ocean waves gently entered the room.
“Some people like to enjoy their open-mind practice in silence, but I find it helpful to have music or background noise. It’s especially helpful when you’re learning these skills so early in your parapsych career. It’s important to be able to drown out enough distraction that you can find an inner focus.”
Ms Alzamora flipped a switch and all the blinds in the room descended and fit themselves snugly inside the window frames, blocking out any fragment of light that could try to creep inside. Low-light sensors pulsated into action, feeding a gentle blue glow into the classroom.
When Ms Alzamora spoke again, she lowered her tone from its usual high pitch into a gentle, soothing, meditative voice.
“To have an open-mind, you need to be equally relaxed and aware. If you’re too sleepy, you won’t be able to concentrate. But if you’re too awake and worried and thinking about lots of things, you won’t be able to find a mindful state. Finding the perfect psychological position to awaken your mind is most of the battle. Some parapsychs take years, even decades to achieve the perfect state. It’s a lifetime practice, so don’t be upset if this doesn’t come to you in your first year, or even during your entire time at Winsbury. Remember that we call it practice for a reason.”
Jessa knew that Ms Alzamora was trying to reassure them, but she found the teacher’s words frustrating. It sounded like she was proposing a challenge.
They sat as Ms Alzamora guided them through a relaxing meditation.
“Now, slowly open your eyes and take a look at your card.” Every word came out as if she were reading a bedtime story. “Don’t stare at it, and don’t think about it. Just observe it and acknowledge your observations.”
Whispers of boredom and puzzlement arose around the room.
“What is she on about?”
“I don’t get it.”
“What’s supposed to happen?”
“If you’ve reached your capacity for practice today, please sit in quiet for a few more moments,” said the teacher.
But Jessa’s eyes lay unmoving from her card.
And she stayed there, still, quiet, and unaware of time.
“Now bring your attention away from the card and back into the room.
Jessa’s eyes watered as she fluttered them fully open, and she realised she’d barely blinked during the whole practice. She wiped away the sudden excess moisture from around her eyes. Flynn and Maggie were staring at her.
“I’ve never seen you focus that hard on anything,” said Maggie.
The blinds rose up and Jessa squinted in the light.
“Collect your things and you’re free to leave at your leisure,” the teacher invited.
“Wait, is the lesson over?” Jessa tried to gather herself among the hubbub of students hastening to leave the room. “I thought this was a double lesson?”
“It was. It’s 3:40.” Flynn took the girls’ cushions and put them away with his own.
“What on earth was that all about?” Maggie whispered as they departed the lab. “I didn’t understand it at all,” she sighed. “And I was listening to what Ms Alzamora was saying, so it’s not that I wasn’t paying attention. I tried to do everything exactly how she said. So what did I do wrong?”
“Stop worrying,” Jessa urged. “Remember, Ms Alzamora said that these things can take a long time to really get to grips with.”
“Hmm,” Maggie contemplated. “Maybe if I study really hard over the next week I’ll be able to figure it out for the next lesson.”
“Mags,” Flynn said, “I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you can study for. We just need to practice, like she said.”
“Yep,” Jessa tried to smile at Maggie, who clearly doubted that progress in anything could be made without studying.