Eleven-year-old Sarah Cotes had made a chatterbox out of a square of beautiful cornflower-blue paper in maths class. Piles of coloured squares sat in the middle of each table of four in Verna Holloway’s classroom; ostensibly for the purpose of ‘making fractions fun.’ The room was filled with voices, as Verna’s pupils diligently folded their chatterboxes, and copied down the fractions she had chalked up on the board in clouds of coral-red.
But not Sarah. No, Sarah was busy writing down vile insults, threats, and detention-worthy drawings on her chatterbox, left arm cupped to block the view of her three friends. Two were interchangeable, being neither particularly bright, funny, or rebellious. They were, however, very susceptible to Sarah’s particular brand of toxic friendship, and seemed in awe of her.
Unlike Carrie Snipper.
Snips, as she was known to her friends, was very bright, naturally funny (without having to resort to being cruel), and was, if not rebellious, stubborn, and not at all in awe of Sarah or anyone else for that matter. Most people thought her ‘a bit odd’. Wise beyond her years, she was already aware that Sarah was one of those childhood friends that you despise in adulthood, and cannot understand how you ever put up with them.
Folding finished, Sarah slid her sharp nails into her chatterbox, and held it out. ‘Your turn,’ Sarah said, grinning at Carrie.
‘You first,’ she replied, only for the chatterbox to predict that Sarah would be famous before she left school. The other two girls were suitably impressed.
‘See?’ Sarah said, ‘not rude. Your turn now, Snips.’
Carrie nodded, and the girls counted along to the pinches and pulls of her chosen numbers.
‘OMG, Snips,’ Sarah looked genuinely shocked, as though she hadn’t just written all the chatterbox messages herself, ‘“you’re a ghost.” See?’ Sarah shook her head, and looked at the others. They reacted as though the devil himself had snuck up and defaced the chatterbox. Carrie said nothing. It was a game, a stupid paper game. More than that, it was a stupid paper game made up by Sarah.
‘Whatever,’ said Carrie, ‘ghosts aren’t real,’ and she reached out to take a square of her own, and got on with the maths lesson.
The rest of the day was uneventful. The girls continued whispering about the game, and casting odd looks at Carrie. She ignored them. They weren’t hateful like Sarah, but she didn’t care all that much for them. Carrie didn’t have many real friends; she had so little in common with anyone her own age it was almost laughable.
Saying goodbye, Carrie adopted her normal head-down walk home. She walked like a girl with no confidence. Carrie wasn’t one to gaze into mirrors, or take endless pictures of herself. She got ready for school in the morning, then tried not to see herself until bedtime. Sometimes, however, she watched her reflection ripple in the windows of the buildings as she passed by.
It was like being in a fairground hall of mirrors; tall Carrie, dumpy Carrie, blue-tinged Carrie, no Carrie. She had cleared the last building before it sank in. No Carrie. Ordinarily, she would walk back, spot her reflection, and carry on. Today, though, Carrie felt unable to. What if there were still no reflection?
What if the chatterbox was right? Carrie couldn’t risk confirming it, so carried on walking.
Crossing over, she had to pass a group of workmen, laying cables, to avoid stepping into the usual rush-hour traffic. One turned and walked right into her.
‘Sorry,’ she said, but he didn’t react. Ordinarily, she would think him an ignorant bastard, and carry on. Today, though, a thought shot through her brain. He didn’t react because he didn’t feel me.
You know what the chatterbox said.
Carrie laughed, and shook her head, trying to dislodge the chatterbox from her brain, and carried on walking. For the first time, she became aware of a mass of throbbing electric blue ahead of her. She slowed her walk, looking around, and saw there were no cars on the road. Carrie waited for the moment someone in charge would tell her to cross over, but it didn’t come.
Nobody’s stopping you, because they can’t see you.
Later, Carrie would point out that she had to prove to the chatterbox that she wasn’t a ghost. She would cry that it was all Sarah Cotes’ fault for making the stupid thing in the first place, and filling it with fictions rather than fractions. She would be rather proud of that line, and get upset when nobody found it funny. Carrie would continue to stress that she wasn’t mad, but was unnerved, which is why she did what she did. She would tell them how she had flung herself on the body at the side of the road, before she realised it was Sarah.
She had looked up and seen Sarah’s mother halfway through the car windscreen. She had stared down at Sarah and seen in her unstaring eyes that she was gone – none of it could have taken more than a second or two, yet it seemed as though time had stopped. She started laughing as she pulled the now-sodden chatterbox from Sarah’s pocket. She would tell them how when the police officer pulled her away from the body, she felt elated, because she was back again, and not a ghost.
‘Ghosts aren’t real,’ the officer sat opposite would tell her, ‘important you know that, Carrie.’
Carrie would nod. Sarah was wrong, the chatterbox was wrong. Ghosts aren’t real, so there would be no chance of Sarah coming for her.
A few days later, recuperating at home, Carrie marvelled at the picture of herself on the front page of the local paper, accompanied by a breathless account of her ‘insane teen’ reaction to a fatal car-crash. Chatterbox had been right, she thought, but it mixed her and Sarah up. She, Carrie, was famous, and, OMG, Sarah; you’re a ghost.