Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
The crowds of youngsters lingering outside Cloverdale High School weren’t just standing there gawking; most of them were moving toward Allison Weatherbee and Vicky Jenkins … moonstruck boys … and the furious girls who loved them. Allison ran when Greg Johnson sprinted toward her with a hopeful smile plastered on his athletic face. “Wait!” he called out. “I need to talk to you!” Vicky kept up for the first fifty yards then Allison began to pull away. “I’ll call you later!” Vicky promised as she bent then grasped her knees trying to catch her breath.
Becoming the spotlight of so much attention was the most frightening thing Allison had ever experienced, but she was only sixteen; scarier things would surely come into her life in the future.
Allison left the sidewalk and ran through several back-yards. Three muscle cars loaded with male students rounded the street corner and were rumbling down Meghan Way, moving slowly. Gawking heads leaned from open windows searching everywhere. Allison found herself cowering next to a garage behind Mrs. Dern’s house. Somewhere a dog began to bark and then another. The doorknob turned in her fingers and she held her breath as she slipped inside.
Globen Dern, the trim (some would say skeletal) seventy-year old who prowled the sidewalks of Cloverdale had a reputation of being something of a kleptomaniac. It was rumored she would pick up anything, anywhere from a forgotten baseball on a lawn to a broken doll plucked from a garbage can on her frequent nighttime excursions. Most of the citizens of Cloverdale considered her harmless and if they really wanted any of the junk items back, they could always have Sheriff John Walker retrieve them.
Allison gasped and instantly she knew the whispered stories had to be true – at least about the old woman’s stealing. Broken combs, radiator caps, pieces of water hose, trash bags, marbles, matchbox cars, pens, pencils, action figures, notebooks, car keys, lost shoes and divorced and unmated socks loomed roof-high in the center of the shed resembling a small volcano. No doubt ready to explode with the gasoline can that almost had to be in the pile somewhere … everything else was.
She opened the door just a crack and peered out. A 1964 Impala SS, the car Greg Johnson drove, rumbled past. Allison heard the slightly dragging sound of The Association singing Cherish on what had to be an eight track car stereo most likely with a book of matches stuck under the cartridge to keep the capstan and the tape engaged. Most girls would die for a date with Greg, but Allison figured she actually would if she ever gave in to his sudden lusty desire, perhaps in glorious bliss but still death was death. What was it Melania had told her …the desire that two people feel for each often burns hotter than any wood. Right now Allison’s shaking legs felt like kindling and she had no desire to go up in flames. She had to find her way to Melania’s house, the old woman, whom most of Cloverdale’s residents swore was a witch with supernatural powers, would know what to do … Allison hoped she would.
Just as she opened the garage-door and began to edge outside, Allison heard a bouncing ping sound as a small object rolled down Mrs. Dern’s loot-pile and landed at her feet. Bits of Inchyra-blue glitter spread outward in all directions. Melania often said there were no coincidences and Allison tried to smile as she reached down and picked up the imitation silver man’s ring, the kind that left your finger green. It was probably purchased at the Comanche County Fair and the masking tape wrapped around the large band said it had been worn by a girl … someone was going steady … or had been. She looked at the enormous square ruby - obviously a fake and smiled.
“If you have any magic in you at all transport me to Melania’s basement,” Allison whispered as she slid the ring on her finger. Allison stood in hopeful expectation for almost two minutes with her eyes closed; an eternity when you’re sixteen, but at least the dogs had stopped barking. Holding her breath she opened her eyes and slipped out of the garage. “Will this day never end,” she moaned as she crouched low and scuttled through an October-frosted garden withering and dying before the coming of night.
Allison waited until the cars circling the block passed and then tried to open the back door to Melania’s mansion … It wouldn’t open and she found the front door was locked too. Melania was always at home and it was beginning to snow. “This is all I need!” She jumped over a fence and began to make her way to the rusty trailer-home her mother shared with Fred Hicks … Allison refused to acknowledge the pervert as her stepfather. The dirty old man had barged into the bathroom too many times, supposedly looking for combs or talcum powder, while she was naked behind the semi-transparent shower curtain.
She was just about to cross at the East end of Galbraith Street when, hearing a low rumble, she turned and an old Buick pulled next to her with what looked like flames shooting out the four venti-ports on the passenger-side front-fender. Allison sighed with relief as she recognized Melania’s 1949 Roadmaster. She didn’t think anyone else in the world had one just like it, although Melania claimed the car’s designer Ned Nickles had its twin. “Your house was locked up!” Allison accused the old woman as she climbed into the classic car.
“Lots of other people know you work for me after school and when you’re suddenly incendiarsi word gets around. The crowds of boys that chase infected girls can be dangerous, unbearable and hard to get rid of,” Melania told her. “When you’re a fox it’s best to lead predators away from your den. I see you found the ring … or rather it found you.”
Allison looked at the ring she had slipped on her finger inside Globen Dern’s garage. “I just picked this up from the floor of Mrs. Dern’s garage! How did you know I had it?”
“Magic calls out to everyone who is listening,” Melania said as the car accelerated down the snow covered road. “I knew you were in trouble … so I came to your rescue.”
Allison noticed they were headed out of town and not back to Melania’s house. “Where are we going?” The wind had picked up and it looked like the beginning of a blizzard.
“To meet with the owner of that ring,” Melania told her.
It was snowing harder and at times the car seemed to be floating … drifting across the desert along with the snow.
The ancient Buick roared down the roads that crisscrossed Comanche County. Melania smiled at Allison and turned on the radio. The KRNR radio announcer’s voice boomed over the blowing wind outside from the car’s eight speakers. “Classic rock time let’s give it up for Cliff Richard and the Shadows playing … Move it!”
“Sounds a lot like Elvis,” Allison said. “But I’ve never heard of them.”
“They were Britain’s answer to American rock and roll before the Beatles,” Melania told her but they are more than that tonight. Their music is a signal to let us know that we’re about to meet our own … shadow.”
Snow blew across the desert as night fell and Allison noticed the car slowing. “That man in the road ahead is very dangerous … to your heart,” Melania said with a laugh. A tall, lean figure stepped onto the shoulder of the highway just as the old woman stopped the car. Icy wind blew his long dark hair to one side. Allison scooted next to Melania as the man kicked snow from his cowboy boots and slid into the seat next to her. The old woman made introductions. “This is Allison Weatherbee … my new apprendista … Allison, this is … Johnny Lang.”
Johnny looked at Allison and smiled. “I see you’re wearing my ring,” he said glancing at her finger. His smile stunned her.
Rivers of ecstatic bliss were running down Allison’s arms and legs and Johnny’s deep blue eyes took her breath away. She could feel incredible warmth radiating outward from him and suddenly realized how cold it was in the other parts of the car. Allison wanted to scoot closer to the shadow like a moth to a flame but she was frozen, unable to speak or to move.
“Slow down,” Melania told Johnny as she accelerated the car back onto the highway. “I’m sure Allison is an l'amore-virgin … and too much of your attractive charm might kill her.”
“Sorry,” Johnny said and then turned and stared out the window as a new song came on the radio. Allison was aware of Melania turning down the volume but just barely. The stranger had almost all her interest. He was so incredibly handsome. Johnny wore a soft leather bomber jacket over a white t-shirt and black denim trousers. He smelled faintly of fresh hay touched by frost and Canoe cologne. Allison thought she could see sadness in his eyes as he gazed out the window; a longing for something lost and it broke her heart. The pain in her chest forced her to breathe and she found her voice just as Cherish began to play softly from the speakers.
“Did you want it back?” The instant the words left her mouth she felt stupid. Of course he wanted the ring back it wasn’t as if they were going steady … he hadn’t given the ring to her. It was just something Mrs. Dern had stolen in her nightly rounds around Cloverdale. But it had obviously been worn by a girl, the masking tape on the band was a tell, and the ring was his. A stab of jealousy pierced Allison’s heart she didn’t even know him … not yet anyway.
Johnny turned to look at her and she was suddenly lost in his eyes and she didn’t want to be found. She was aware of how close they were and she wished they could touch. “Do you want to give it back?” His smile sent shivers down her spine. He was playing with her and she knew it … but his voice was like heat and she was freezing.
“I- I don’t … no,” she stammered.
“Then we’re hooked-up,” he said as he leaned over … and kissed her.
Johnny Lang’s lips were electric and she felt the tiny motors in all her secret places turn on and spin out of control. Allison was a child again riding a carousel that kept turning faster and faster. She was falling deeper and deeper into pools of bliss and there was no going back. Suddenly Allison felt warm and wonderful and she was afraid to move … afraid that if she did it would destroy the moment and she wanted it to last forever. After an unknown length of time a shadow passed over her even though both her eyes were closed. She was aware of something breathing and floating ghostlike above her head and then with a bang the feeling left … and Johnny Lang was gone. When Allison opened her eyes they were pulling into Melania’s garage and the old woman had just put the automatic door down. “Where did he go?” she gasped looking around.
“Johnny lives in every girl’s dreams … and he had to go home,” Melania said. She opened the passenger side door and helped the girl into the house … Allison was crying.
“Why did I have to go through that?” Allison was sobbing as Melania was heating a pot of water for tea. Simon, the old woman’s black cat rubbed against Allison’s leg … but she ignored him.
“Johnny absorbed the power of your kiss, and you are no longer attracting people to you as you were, although there might be some residual effects still lingering on those you was closest to. Johnny was the only person who could remove most of the magic with no ill effects,” Melania said. “I’m sorry about the pain you feel … but there is a price for everything. Having Johnny kiss you was the only remedy that I could think of to keep you from creating chaos wherever you went.”
“I could feel his pain and it touched me,” Allison said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.”
“And there is no reason why you should. If it makes you feel any better, Johnny has broken a thousand hearts and every time he does, the smallest of splinters from love exploding tear him apart.” The old woman took the kettle off the burner when it began to whistle.
Melania set two cups on the table with tea bags and filled them with hot water. Afterwards she put the pot back on the stove then picked up the cat and stroked his fur. “The love and affection you felt for him was only half of what he felt for you. Johnny is the spirit of love and he haunts young hearts whenever he appears.”
“Will I ever see him again?” Allison’s eyes were pleading.
“We all join the spirits eventually,” Melania told her. “And become like them. But there are always ways.” She looked at Allison and smiled. “There are several rooms upstairs that still need to be vacuumed. Staying busy will help keep your mind away from your troubles.”
Allison enjoyed exploring the upstairs even if she was guiding a vacuum cleaner. Portraits of cats dominated the many rooms, but there were clever and interesting things in every place, Melania’s house seemed like a mysterious museum.
Melania had somehow acquired or enchanted a Black Forest cuckoo with hands that spun backwards. The clock chimed every hour and when it did a small door opened above the clock-face and several objects flew out. Tiny silk wings and spinning gears circled the room chirping, while all the eyes in the cat paintings followed them. The flying mechanical birds flew back inside the clock just before the tiny door closed with a soft click.
A beautiful woven rug with an elephant design that looked like it might have come from Persia or another Eastern country rose from the floor almost to the ceiling as she drew near and hovered there as she vacuumed. The rug settled back down on the floor with a sigh once she had finished cleaning beneath it.
Simon was sitting on an upright piano watching Allison approach. Suddenly the hissing cat jumped, tipping over a vase and rained marble-sized beads down on the open keyboard below. Blue glass balls rolling and bouncing like peas played Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto in its entirety before stampeding off the edge and escaping into an open heating duct in the floor.
A bookcase between two windows held numerous interesting objects besides books. Allison watched a pack of playing cards shuffling themselves. Male and female dancers attached to the lid of a music box engaged in some kind of lover’s squabble. A thimble-sized pewter figure of a wolf with tiny ruby eyes watched them. She thought she glimpsed several rabbits run across the floor toward light from a transom. They were being chased by a creepy porcelain doll dragging a broken leg but they all seemed to vanish into the distinctive lines between light and shadow cast by the window.
Allison finished cleaning and then did some dusting. She enjoyed working for Melania, the old woman had always been very kind to her and it was a welcome change from being at home listening to her mother and stepfather argue. Melania called to her just as she was putting her cleaning supplies into a closet and Allison found her once again in the downstairs library.
“Juliana Hiker also got into trouble for using her kissing magic,” Melania told Allison as she handed the teen the five-hundred year old copy of La Magia di Baci.
“I would think that anyone with that much magical skill wouldn’t have any troubles at all,” Allison said as she took the book.
“Remember the balance of all things,” Melania told her. “Great skills are often shadowed with comparable accidents and blunders.” The old woman had made more tea and she handed another cup to Allison. Allison could smell mint and something that smelled like hickory but she couldn’t tell what it was. “Read from chapter three this time,” Melania told her. “I think it’s important that you learn about all the dangers involved in kissing before you go any further in your studies … especially after what happened today.”
Allison turned the pages carefully until she found the correct place in the book. She cleared her throat and then began reading. "Egli era l'uomo più bello che avessi mai visto e sono stato attratto da lui come una fiamma, anche se sapevo che lui era proibito."
“He was the most handsome man I’d ever seen …” Melania translated the words into English. “And I was drawn to him like a flame … even though I knew that he was forbidden.”
“Why was he forbidden?” Allison asked.
“This part of the book is a diary that Juliana kept when she was a young girl,” Melania told her. “Masuccio Salernitano’s grandfather Niccolo, although extremely handsome and desirable, was a priest in training at his first parish. The only contact Juliana had with him was to kiss his hand as he passed out bread during communion and that was enough … at first. Eventually she wanted Niccolo to love her and not as a priest. Juliana began to study the dark arts especially writing and learned everything she could about kissing. Juliana visited the church every day and always kissed his hand. She was very beautiful and believed that their love was meant to be … and after a while so did he.”
“Writing was one of the dark arts?” Allison was intrigued.
“Words evolved from ancient symbols that only shamans and religious leaders were allowed to use,” Melania said. “Even the texts of the Holy Scriptures were written in Latin and common people were forbidden to even examine them. Words have always been vessels for an immense source of power no less today than at that time.”
“Is there magic in all words?” Allison asked.
“There is magic in all things,” Melania told her.
“What happened to Juliana and Niccolo?” Allison could read the book in her hand but she wasn’t sure if she could understand all that she was reading.
“Niccolo decided to renounce his vows of chastity which was punishable by death and he and Juliana planned to escape to the north where the church had less influence. They planned to be married and live simple lives as farmers.”
“What happened?” Allison thought the story was becoming very interesting.
“They were caught when a wagon they were riding in broke a wheel and one of the villagers who came to help noticed Niccolo and Juliana hiding under a pile of straw. The villager who had always secretly loved Julianna, alerted the authorities.”
“Surely the church would have understood that not all who are called are meant to serve,” Allison had to push away Simon who was once again rubbing against her leg.
“This was during the reign of the anti-pope Baldassarre Cossa. He was an evil man filled with greed and treachery. People were abandoning the church in droves and Cossa wanted to make an example of these two people and strike fear into his remaining followers. He had Juliana condemned as a witch and made plans to have her burned at stake.”
“What about Niccolo?” Allison was forgetting to drink her tea.
“Baldassarre Cossa told Niccolo that if he would renounce Juliana and testify against her he would be allowed to live.” Melania shook her head. Allison could see the sorrow in her eyes as if she had known these people personally.
“What did he do?” Allison gasped.
“He refused of course,” Melania said. “He told Cossa that he would rather die than live without her and the next morning they were both tied to a post in the center of a large pile of wood in the village square.”
Just then the clock upstairs chimed seven times. They could hear the mechanical birds flying about the room and Melania knew she must send her young helper home. “I’m afraid our little excursion to meet Johnny took too much of our time.” She said. Melania walked Allison to the front door. “We’ll continue your studies tomorrow after you help with laundry and bring a few herbs up from the basement.” She looked at the young girl and smiled. “You shouldn’t attract nearly as many followers at school, but make sure you don’t kiss anyone. We still don’t know what magical powers might linger even with Johnny’s help!”
I hope not Allison thought as she left the mansion and began walking home. Having that many people chasing after you … is terrifying.
Melania watched Allison from the kitchen window as she walked down the street. Simon was rubbing her leg so she picked the cat up. “You want some affection do you Johnny?” she smiled as the cat began to purr. “Oh I almost forgot … when you’re in this house and in this form your name is Simon.” She carried the cat into the kitchen planning on a saucer of milk perhaps warm … it was a cold night. “How about watching a movie on TV? I hear there’s a Humphrey Bogart movie on after the news … I know how you cherish the old black and whites.”
The next day Allison was feeling a lot better; things seemed to be almost normal … until she got to school. “A kissing booth!” Allison could hardly believe what she was hearing. Miss. Wolf had called her from English Literature into the principal’s office along with Vice-Principal Adams and Marsha Hicks. Marsha was wearing a mini skirt and Principal Adams had made her staple a newspaper around the bottom so the paper-hem met her knees … it wasn’t the first time.
“The local PTA and the Cloverdale Committee for the Arts have all decided that a Kissing Booth at a school fair would be the best way to raise money for new auditorium lights.” Miss Wolf told them. She was all business. “With you and Marsha both working the booth I’m sure we can come up the fourteen hundred dollars in no time. Plus it’s great publicity for our upcoming performances!”
“But I can’t,” Allison objected.
“You seemed to do pretty well yesterday,” Miss. Wolf said with a smirk. “You had the whole school talking about your little open mouth affair with Greg Johnson … so don’t tell me you’ve suddenly become prudish!”
“But!” Allison stammered.
“What about my cousin?” Marsha interrupted. “Is he still on the injured list?”
“Vern Hicks is unfortunately out for the semester,” Miss Wolf said. “His mother is considering transferring him out of drama and into electronics. She says with his fragile temperament the stress of sexual contact might be too much for him.”
“Then who is going to play the male lead?” A light went on in Marsha’s eyes.
“I got Coach Simmons to re-arrange Greg Johnson’s football practice schedule.” Miss Wolf looked at Allison and smiled. “He did seem rather taken with yesterday’s rehearsal.”
“I’d like to make a suggestion,” Marsha said suddenly showing tons more enthusiasm for the school play. “Since me an Allison are both working the booth together whoever sells the most kisses plays Rachel and the loser is her understudy … are we agreed?” She looked at Allison, then smiled and leaned closer to whisper with concealed venom. “Your mother is barely good enough for my uncle. Are you afraid no boy will choose you?” Allison thought she looked like a crocodile wearing designer clothing.
Mrs. Wolf clapped her hands and laughed. “I think a little competition is a great thing.”
Everyone was looking at Allison; she didn’t know what to say …. Marsha smirked like she had already won the contest. Finally Allison nodded her head in the affirmative.”
“When is the school carnival?” Marsha asked.
“Tomorrow,” said Miss Wolf smiling. “We’re desperate to have the funding for the lights and we need the money as soon as possible. The principal agreed to let school out at noon and Mr. Henry’s shop class is building the kissing booth right now!”
Allison felt sick as she gathered books for her next class. Vicky Jenkins was standing next to her locker. Greg Johnson happened to be walking past and started to lurch toward Allison with a stupid grin on his face but several of his football teammates pulled him back. Evidently there was still a bit of the magic residue left and Johnny hadn’t absorbed it all. Vicky was staring at the best looking boy in the senior class as his baffled teammates dragged him away.
“Hopelessly drunk on love!” Vicky whispered. “Girl, if only I knew where your hidden still was.” Finally when Greg Johnson disappeared at the end of the hall Vicky turned her attention back to her best friend. “What’s up?” Vicky asked. “You’re still smoking hot, but not glowing … and now you look like that cartoon dog Scooby Doo when he realizes he has just swallowed a hand grenade.”
“You may be right,” Allison said thinking about the kissing booth Miss Wolf and especially Marsha Hicks had forced her to be in. She looked at her watch. “This whole attraction thing that has been pushed on me … looks like it’s going to explode in about … twenty-six hours.”
TO BE CONTINUED …