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This story was prompted by [personal profile] perfectworry and sponsored by titianblue!  This story is a sequel to Sympathies, but you don't need to have read it to read this one.  Happy Fearathon!

Somebody’s Watching You


After a few months of affiliation with spooks (and mysterious accidents befalling her tormentors) Tanika stopped being bullied at school.  Everyone ignored her, which suited her fine.

She had discovered that Recton School for the Gifted had two house spirits—at least, two who were willing to talk to her.  There was Coach Duggan, dead of a heart attack sometime during the Kennedy administration, and Lydia, a student from a century prior who never left the third floor bathroom and never said why.  Still, she was good lunch company.

Tanika was halfway through her mom’s leftover chili when Lydia locked the stall door and hissed, “someone’s coming!”

The restroom door banged open, and Tanika hastily pulled her legs up onto the toilet.  Just because she hadn’t been bullied for a while didn’t mean it’d never happen again.

“Hello?” A voice said.  When Tanika didn’t answer, “Look, everyone knows you eat here.  I need spooky help.”

Tanika put the chili on top of the toilet paper dispenser and waved to Lydia, who generously opened the stall door with a creak.

“Enter,” Tanika intoned.

The girl goggling at her from the other side had curly hair and bulging eyes like a poodle. Still, she got herself together and said, “Someone’s watching me.  There’s nobody there, but I can feel it.  Come on, the locker room?  Surely you’ve felt it too.”

“The locker room is creepy all on its own,” Tanika said.

The poodle girl looked exasperated. “Look, someone’s been grabbing me.  Not all the time, but enough, and nobody’s ever close to me when it happens.  I don’t have anywhere else I can go with this; you’re the only possessed girl I know!”

Tanika saw the hint of tears in the girl’s eyes and sighed.  Poodle-Girl had never done anything to her; there was no point in holding a grudge. “I’ll check it out,” she said. “But no promises.”
“I’d never grab the girls!” Coach Duggan said, appalled. “What do you take me for?” Pause. “Though now that you mention it, they didn’t like it, even when I was alive.  I always just thought they were shy.”

“Is there another spirit?” Tanika asked.

“None after me, no sir.  And if he predates me… well, that’s a long time to hide.  I think your girl was just confused is all.”

But Tanika remembered her tears. “Make sure the gym’s unlocked for me after school, and stick around.  I’ll shout if I need you.”

It was creepy in there.  There was a chill and heaviness to the air, no matter the season, and a scum of mildew that never came off.  Tanika had loathed changing in there so much that she’d done it in Lydia’s bathroom instead.  It was dark and creepy.

And it did feel like someone was watching her.

“Hello?  I’m Tanika.  I’m looking for a spirit here?”

Nothing.  If there was a spirit who’d been biding their time for fifty years, they weren’t about to come out just because Tanika asked nicely.  Her skin was starting to crawl, and she decided it was time to go.

Someone grabbed her shoulders.

Tanika swung her bookbag, but it just swished through air and the grip on her shoulder tightened.  She opened her mouth to shout, only for her mouth to be covered.

A whisper in her ear: “Is he gone?”

“Mm?”

The voice, a young man’s. “Duggan.  Is he gone?”

Confused now, Tanika nodded.

“All right.  I’m going to let you go, but only if you don’t scream.  Promise?”

Tanika nodded again, and the spirit let go of her.

Whispering, she said, “who are you?”

“Look, I know why you’re here; I heard you talking.  But I never grabbed anybody,” the whisperer said.  He sounded terrified and desperate. “That was all him.”

“Duggan?  But…”

“Let me guess, he told you he died of a heart attack.”

“Didn’t he?”

“Well, yes, but he got it while he was killing me.”

“I’m going to scream.”

“Don’t scream!  Please don’t scream!  My name’s Royal.  I was the assistant coach.  Lydia never comes down from the bathroom, does she?  It’s because she’s terrified of him.  So am I.  Look, Duggan was a problem fifty years ago.  I found out what he was doing to students, and confronted him, and it ended very badly for me.”

Tanika paused, tried to get her thoughts together. “Can you prove any of this?  Why should I believe you?”

Royal paused, then, in a nervous voice, “Do you know how to bind a spirit?”

“Yeah.” The haunted house taught her.

“I’ll let you do it now, then, and you can ask Duggan yourself.  But make sure to bring the salt with you.” One of the lockers rattled. “Here I am.  Bind me.”

Tanika frowned and dug the canister of salt out of her bag, and circled the locker.  The locker room seemed less dank already.  Once she had a good salt circle, she shouted, “Coach!”

Coach Duggan didn’t need doors.  There was a rush of air and then, “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, the binding worked.”

“Good job, sport!”

She got an idea. “Coach, she said her name is Royal, that you knew her.”

“Never heard of him.”

“So why did you say ‘he’?”

Duggan was silent a moment. “What are you saying?”

“He’s right, isn’t he?  You’ve been grabbing students.”

Silence. “Tanika.  I liked you.”

It didn’t sound hangdog or hurt.  It sounded angry.

Tanika sighed. “I liked you too, Coach,” she said, and scuffed a gap in the salt circle.

There was a rush of air and a shriek of anger.  Lockers burst open with a clang, and above Tanika’s head, the fluorescent light fixture burst.  She ducked under the hail of glass and plastic and dug into her bag for the canister of salt.

“Royal, show me where he is!”

Another light fixture burst, and Tanika hurled the salt at it.  There was a cry.

“More!” Royal shouted. “Two o’clock!”

Tanika pitched more, and things went quiet.

“Okay,” Royal reported. “You got him.”

Tanika was already digging for her grammy’s Bible.  She was so mad she was crying. “When I’m done, help sweep up,” she told Royal. “I’m not making things worse for the janitors.”
Tanika didn’t try to contact Poodle-Girl, or anyone else, but word got around anyway.  Nobody could say how, but everyone agreed that the locker room was somehow less creepy, and people who used to smirk at Tanika in the halls now smiled at her.

Tanika ignored them.  She had Lydia to eat with.

One day, Poodle-Girl came back and knocked on the stall door. “Hey, Tanika?”

Lydia kindly opened the stall door for her; Tanika tried to look spooky with a mouthful of chicken and rice. “Can I help you?”

“Me?  No.  But thanks with the locker room.  It’s gotten way better.  The thing is, I heard from Fariah’s friend Casey that she’s having spooky problems too.  She’s willing to pay if you fix it.”

Tanika blinked. “Um.  Okay, sure.”

Poodle-Girl beamed. “Thanks!  I’ll see you in English.”

She waved and gently shut the stall door, then left.

“It seems you have a friend,” Lydia said.

“No, I’ve got a job.” And Tanika finished her lunch.

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