Chapter Seventeen-

The James Woods High School Anthem

(Sung to the tune of "Love Me Tender)

James Woods, James Woods,

James Woods High

Actor of our age,

Coolest movie star by far,

TV, film and stage

Born in Utah,

Grew up here,

Many may not know,

Went to MIT and he's,

A poker playing pro

James Woods, James Woods

James Woods High,

Let our voices ring,

Worked on Rudy and Cat's Eye,

That flick by Stephen King

James Woods, James Woods,

James Woods High,

Never shall we roam,

Against All Odds, we'll stay with you,

In spite of Videodrome

Assembly ended, at last, and for Meg, there was a comfort at seeing the same old auditorium again. Its American flag and broad, badly lit stage. Its tiered seating and archaic sound system. Assembly was to be the last event of the day, with students going home immediately after it. Spooner Street was calling, and she was eager to get home.

Anonymously walking through the crowds that formed as the last bell of school rang, she pondered the key moments of her recent adventure, one week past, with the aid of sobering clarity. She had done what few could admit to. Gone through what blessed few could have.

And it transformed her in ways that even now, she was still trying to get a handle on. She skated on the edge of the ethereal, and got to talk to God personally. She defended innocent souls victoriously, and stood up against great evil, not just on Earth, but beyond. It was quite a lot to take in.

Meg felt small as she watched the same people she used to either admire, or obsess about, mill around in their own little spheres of influence. She felt so far away from everyone. They couldn't touch her, they couldn't know what she knew. They just weren't strong enough.

But the smallness she felt wasn't a bad kind, based on low self-esteem, but rather, it was humility, a rewarding sense of humbleness that filled her up, like a bag of water, bursting at the seams. She felt mature, and it wasn't just a sense of accomplishment and happiness that filled her, but also peace.

She was Meg in name, only. And it felt good.

Walking through the halls reminded Meg of her last conversation with Death in the school prior to all that happened. She wondered what he and Jennifer were doing now. Both working hard, obviously. She, learning the tricks of the trade, and teaching Death something, too, in her own way. If it were a slow day, he might have invited her to meet his mother, which would have led to Mrs. Death doting all over the girl, and telling his protégé truly embarrassing stories concerning her son and his less-than-shining moments.

Meg smiled at that. Nothing like a little humility to keep one's feet on the ground.

When she reached her locker, she opened the door, placed some things in, and took some things out. When she closed it again, it revealed a surly looking Connie staring at her.

Meg's defenses rose for the challenge coming, but she noticed that, strangely, Connie was alone. No Varsity jacket clad sycophants, or pretty boy poseurs shadowing her.

"Did you hear?" Connie asked with a sneer in her voice. "Your boss, that Ragg guy, disappeared. Police are looking for him. They think that he might have ran off with some of his company's money. So, what does it feel like to work for a possible criminal, Meg?"

Meg surprised herself in how she answered. Before, she would have probably tried to sink to D'amico's level, but now, she was so centered, that she spoke to Connie as easily as if she was asked about the weather.

"Actually, Connie, I did hear all about it. Yeah, Ragg did disappear, but his company's in good shape, ever since that merger with that media company, the Eddy Group. However, I don't think the company's new management will let me keep my advice column job. They picked someone else to do it. Some girl named Hope."

"I know," Connie said.

Meg looked at her quizzically. "How do you know that? Have you written to her?"

Connie looked stricken. Vulnerabilities, her vulnerabilities, were in danger of being exposed. "What? No! Anyway, why should they have you on?" Connie said with a disdainful sniff. "It wasn't like you would have been any good at it."

Meg looked at D'amico with something akin to pity. "So you say," she countered unperturbed, as she gathered her belongings. "But speaking of disappearances, where's your back-up singers?"

Connie huffed a reply. "What's it to you, Griffin? I don't have to have my friends with me everywhere I go, 24/7. If I need them here with me, boom, they're here. You have to turn over rocks to even find anyone who'll be with you. I don't even know why I wasted my time coming over here. See ya, loser."

With that, she turned on her heel and stomped off, leaving Meg very perplexed that this scene even happened. Why did she come over here? Simply to try and rub her face in the company scandal? Possibly. But bullies crave attention, and Connie was alone. So what was Connie playing at?

Somewhere out on the ocean, a half-submerged airliner floated amidst bobbing debris and aviation fuel, which trailed out of rent sections.

All passengers were accounted for, or rather, their souls were, as they all stood on the roof of the largest section in consternation.

"What happening? What's going on, here?"

"We have to be somewhere. Is anybody coming to rescue us?"

"Why is the guy from the Scream movies talking on the phone?"

Death was at his cell phone, talking to someone that Jennifer could only guess was in authority. A lot of "Yes, sir," "No, sir," and, from she could make out in the heavy murmurs and complaints of the crowd, "Three bags full, sir."

When he finally hung up, Death motioned for Jennifer to come over to him. "Kid, we got a problem. A lot of these passengers were on their way to family reunions and vacations. If they keep grousing like this, and don't want to move on, they're probably gonna want to stay and become ghosts."

"Is that a bad thing?" she asked.

"Kind of. See, The Boss doesn't mind it when there's a few floatin', here and there. Lets people know that there's still a spiritual presence here on Earth. It's when there's a whole crowd of them hangin' around, that things get kinda tricky. Tends to scare the natives, y'know? It's a real hassle, paperwork-wise, too, and since they're not where they're supposed to be, they're like lost cattle with The Boss's brand on 'em. You wanna get 'em all corralled before the foreman gets back."

"I see," Jennifer said, her face beaming with understanding. "Wait here."

It seemed unusual for the trainee to take over for the trainer so soon in the training, but Death figured that there was no harm. These spirits couldn't go anywhere just yet, anyway.

Death saw Jennifer disappear into the center of the mass of souls and then watched them begin to huddle around her, as if listening to something she was saying.

A minute later, the crowd, in portions, gradually began to sit together, swaying in time, as Jennifer stood in the middle of them, leading them all in a rousing version of Kumbaya.

Death stood flabbergasted as his assistant then waded through the crowd, back to where he stood.

"Hey, how'd you do that?" asked a very pleased Death.

Without missing a beat, Jennifer gave her boss a happy smile, while she, too, swayed to the singing, and said, "Oh, it was nothing at all, boss. I just told them that if they didn't come with us, and stayed on Earth, the powers of darkness would send their greatest champion to come get them."

"Who, the Devil?"

"Nope, the Ghost Whisperer."

With a slight chuckle of surprise, Death was suitably impressed. He put a congratulatory, skeletal hand on her shoulder, and told her, quite proudly, "Kid, I'll make a Grim Reaper out of you, yet."

Meg sat by her windowsill as she waited for her computer to boot up. She looked out to The Swanson's home next door, and a pang of grief touched her heart. She had made contact with Kevin in a way his parents could never appreciate, and even though it was meant to inspire her to fight on, now that the fight was over, she wasn't sure how to internalize this disconnect as anything other than loss.

Her need to love and to be loved would always be a part of her, and lovers would come and go. But, she figured, perhaps correctly, that the pain of that loss was making her a stronger woman. It was, she knew, yet another strike of the chisel of Life, creating another facet in the diamond called Meg.

Her cell phone rang on her desk, bringing her out of her deep thoughts. In the end, Kevin was an aspect of her that she couldn't change, even if it burdened her with some emotional baggage. Better to find the positive in it, than not, and make it her own.

She picked it up. Upon hearing the voice of her editor, she perked up and asked her, "What have you got for me?"

"We just ran through the first batch of letters, Meg. They should be in your email inbox now, but I don't understand why you want to use a pen name. Trust me as your editor on this. If things go right with this assignment, you could make a career out of this."

Meg sat down at her desk, and with one hand on her computer, called up her email account.

"I know, and you might be right about all that, but I just want to make sure that while I'm doing this, I'm doing this for all the right reasons. I don't want any ego to get in the way of the good I can do here. That's why I don't want anyone to know it's me."

"Well, I can't argue with that, Meg, and the editor-in-chief was nice enough to keep you on, even though the advice column idea was Ragg's." the editor said. "Okay, you can keep the pen name. Somehow, it kinda suits you."

"Thanks, Mrs. Campbell. Well, it's getting late. I better get started."

"Okay, dear, I won't keep you. Let us know when you're done, so we can put them in the next edition. Have a blessed day."

"You, too," Meg said, and then she hung up.

"No time like the present," she said, as she opened her inbox and got to work. She saw a list of ten emails, all coming from the magazine's office. Each one, a potential cry in the awkward dark, looking for a mentor who wasn't a grown-up. Their own teen bodhisattva to sit by the foot of.

Meg cracked her knuckles, prepared her heart and mind for the new adventure that awaited her, and dove in, opening the first email.

The thrill was immediate, as the letter scrolled down, and she read the salutation before her.

"Dear Hope,

I don't normally do things like this. Normally, I'm a pretty popular girl in school and the things that other girls go through don't usually apply to me. But something happened that put my whole world in a blender set on puree.

Guys like me. A lot. And because I have my choice of any guy I want, I can have one dude, or several, on my arm any day of the week. But this one time, I have to admit that I was seriously crushing!

His name was Rudy, and he was so hot looking. I thought I was gonna die right there in class when I saw him, and I almost did inside when he came over and talked to me.

Well, we started going out for a few weeks. I thought that he was really the one guy for me, until I found out that he was sampling some of the cheerleaders on the side.

When I told him about it, he totally denied it. And when I said that some of my friends saw him making out with Sherry, the head cheerleader, he finally 'fessed up.

Can you believe he told me that it was nothing? That I shouldn't get all worked up over it, and that what we had wasn't that special! I wanted to push him into traffic. I wanted to strap him to a table and dissect him like the toad he was. I was so mad at him.

He walked away like it was nothing, and it was a good thing, too, because I was starting to tear up. I swear, guys stink sometimes.

I didn't want to be with my friends at all that day, but that day turned into a week. I didn't care. Besides, I didn't want them to know what happened between Rudy and me.

I don't know why, Hope, but I still wanted to talk to someone about it. I guess I figured that my friends wouldn't know what to do when it came to rejection and stuff. But I kind of knew who would.

I know this girl in school named Meg Griffin. Kind of a Plain Jane. My friends and me sometimes rag on her for a laugh, y'know? But lately, I've been thinking about stopping that.

You think you know somebody, and I used to think she was such a spaz back then, but I never knew what she was capable of. She may be smaller than me, but she can really get tough when she wants to. Not that she had to be with me, and all that, but I guess I kind of like the new Meg a little. God, if she ever knew that I said that…

Did you know that she said that she likes to think about me when she's in the tub, and that she even kissed me once? Well, somebody told me that she kissed me when I…fell asleep one time in the cafeteria. Could that little geek be crushing on me? Weird, huh?

Anyway, I guess I wanted to say something to someone. Y'know, just to get it off my chest, and somehow, I wound up talking to Meg, of all people! But I couldn't tell her about my boyfriend and me breaking up. I know that she'd use that against me somehow, after all the times I made fun of her!

I couldn't let her do that, so instead, I just went to her and did the usual thing I do, make fun of her, make light of her accomplishments, and then walk away. Funny thing was that she didn't look too upset when I did that to her. She kind of just brushed it off. Whoa!

I mean, I don't want to get beat up agai, uh, I mean, fall asleep when she's around, y'know, but, I don't know. She seems kind of stronger now. She's kind of interesting.

I mean, she's all right sometimes, I guess! When she and I worked together once to get back at her little brother, she really had a knack for being cold-blooded. Wow.

I mean…anyway, that's why I wrote to you, Hope. I guess you been there, and done that, and whatever, so I really would like to know what you think. About what I just wrote, and about how to handle this problem with my relationships lately. And maybe about Meg, too. Maybe.

I guess guys just weren't meant to understand us women, and we girls need to keep our secrets. Ha. Ha. Anyway, thanks for listening to me."


Blonde and Confused

Meg sat there, stunned. She didn't think the very first letter she would respond to would come from Connie herself. That certainly explained her behavior in the hall earlier. The notion to use this bombshell of information against her was so delicious that it wasn't worth wasting words to describe it.

It would cripple her standing in the school, it would drive her friends from her like fire in a rat-infested barn. It would destroy her.

And that brought her back to her senses. Would she be the instrument that would see Connie D'amico driven into the same scenario that befell Jennifer and so many others? The Devil's minions work in secret and sometimes didn't even know they were in his employ.

Meg forced her mind to stop its childish scheming and looked at the letter not with dispassion, but with affection. Others would need a similar attitude from her and if she couldn't foster it in D'amico, of all people, she couldn't do her job.

With a knowing smile, Meg settled in for the evening and began to write back.

"Don't worry, Connie," she said. "Your secrets are safe with me."

The End