I'm in the Edgerton Middle School library, glaring at a particularly nasty algebra homework problem, when my phone chirps with the text that screws up my entire life forever.
Face flaming, I scrabble inside my backpack, glancing around to see if anyone notices. Catwoman's kid sister, Leslie Canfield, sits three tables over, giving me her usual death-stare. Leslie's eyes flick to my right, and her mouth forms a spiteful smile. I groan inwardly as I switch my phone to vibrate, knowing it's already too late.
"Is that your phone, Samantha?" Mrs. Crane, the librarian, pokes her head out from around the stacks to my right, her normally cheerful blue eyes for once looking reproachful.
"Sorry, Mrs. Crane," I say. "It won't happen again."
"Consider this your one and only warning," she says.
"Thanks, Mrs. Crane," I reply, glad not to lose my phone.
I avoid looking at Leslie, and turn back to my math homework, annoyed at whoever sent me the text. Normally no one ever does. I don't have friends. I'm one of the kids nobody notices in the halls, talks to in class, or sits with at lunch. I don't even hang out with the science geeks. Not that I ever tried. It's too much hassle. Too much struggle to watch every word I say. Too much anxiety that I'll let something slip which I'll regret later. It's safer to just keep my head down and my mouth shut.
At last I remember to check my message. It's from Jamie of course. When school started two weeks ago, she became my science lab partner, and right away she began to zoom around me like a small annoying bird.
I frown at her brief text: Science Presentation gold! Higgins will freak!
This is followed by a web address. It's on the website for CERN Laboratory in Switzerland, the physics Mecca, according to Mr. Higgins.
I know Jamie will just keep badgering me until I watch it. With a sigh, I plug in my ear buds and click the link.
It begins with Dr. Saltzman, the CERN physicist making the press release saying, "We can now detect quantumforms, quantum fields created by human consciousness."
It's a short video. The whole thing only lasts a few minutes, but by the time it's done, invisible needles of ice prickle my arms, and I'm biting at the end of my long, dirty blond ponytail.
Oh, no. My thoughts race as I stuff my phone into my backpack with trembling fingers, and toss the slightly damp end of my ponytail over my shoulder.
The sound of the last bell competes with the thunder of my pulse as I gather my books and head for the school's main entrance.
I join the salmon spawn of students pouring out the front door, looking warily to my left and right. Good. No Jamie. I relax and descend the steps to the sidewalk.
"Well? Did you watch it? What do you think?"
I jump at the voice by my elbow. Jamie is beside me, her slim, rounded body only coming up to my chin. Her shoulder length dark curls contrast with my own stringy hair. I feel like a stork next to a parakeet as she bounces and chirps beside me. Jamie is dressed in tight, stylish jeans and a pink blouse, with cute sandals exposing her painted toenails. I'm in my usual baggy sweats and NASA hoodie, which hide my own bony hips and shoulders. I wear sneakers that disguise my complete lack of toe coloring.
I squeeze my eyes shut, then open them. I so do not want to get into this discussion with Jamie, but there's no avoiding it.
"Higgins will never go for it," I say.
"Of course he will," says Jamie, her enthusiasm undiminished. "It's a legit science topic. Perfect for our joint presentation."
"It's so far from legit, it can't even join the fringes," I respond. "You know Higgins will call it pseudo science, or worse."
"Not if it comes from CERN," Jamie says stubbornly. "Come on, Sam! You know what he's like about CERN."
We're alone on the sidewalk now, the flow of kids thinning as we leave the school grounds behind us.
"I know," I say, "but it's the topic. CERN Labs is claiming they can detect ghosts."
"That's not what Dr. Saltzman says at all," says Jamie. Her voice is indignant. "Didn't you listen?"
"Sure I did," I say. "Did you?"
Without waiting for Jamie's reply, I take out my phone and play the video, fast forwarding to the questions at the end.
"Dr. Saltzman," asks one slimy looking reporter, "is it true that your instruments detected these so-called quantumforms in a few inanimate objects?"
"There are always unexpected results in any investigation," says Dr. Saltzman. "When this happens, it simply indicates the need for more research, and possibly changes to one's hypothesis."
"Isn't it true," persists the reporter, "that all the inanimate objects that tested positive for these so -called quantumforms, were supposedly haunted?"
In the tiny cell phone screen Dr. Saltzman looks annoyed. "Sir," he says, "this is scientific research, not stage illusion."
The reporter does not back down. "Dr. Saltzman," he continues, " isn't quantumform just another word for ghost?"
I hit the stop key and pocket my phone, feeling smug.
"Ok," says Jamie, impatiently flapping one hand in front of her face. "So I get that part was a little flaky. Tell you what. I'll ask Higgins. If he says no, we can find another topic."
"Ok," I say slowly. I don't want to agree, but can't think of any more reasons to object. Besides, Mr. Higgins is sure to shoot this idea down.
Jamie turns off at the next corner, and I finish my walk home. Our house is a three story brown Victorian with large windows and an air of affectionate neglect. I climb the porch and let myself in.
My parents are both still at work in DC. Mom manages a hotel. Dad is a psychiatrist. There's a huge demand for my dad's specialty, which he claims confirms his theory that you have to be crazy to go into politics.
I dump my backpack on the kitchen table, and head straight for the attic. It's been finished and separated into four rooms. I knock on the door to the library, the one farthest from the stair and peek inside.
As usual, Mrs. Goldstein is there, sitting in her rocker, surrounded by bookshelves, knitting. She looks up and smiles.
"Ah, my favorite maidel," she says. "Come in, Sammie. Come in."
"I'm not a little girl now, Mrs. Goldstein," I say, remembering the meaning of the Yiddish word. "I'm in the seventh grade now."
"Yes, yes," she says. Then she drops her knitting in her lap and in graceful sign language asks, "Are you ready for another sign language lesson?"
"Sure," I sign, my index finger touching my chin and moving forward. I sit down in a cozy armchair across from Mrs. Goldstein.
"This means friend," says Mrs. Goldstein, clasping her index fingers together, first one way, then the other.
I repeat the new sign, drill old vocabulary words, and practice a few phrases. Then Mrs. Goldstein signs, "How was school today?"
"Fine," I sign, my thumb touching my chest, my fingers extended and wiggling slightly.
Then I let my hands drop to my lap, and return to talking. "Actually I learned something interesting today."
Mrs. Goldstein raises an eyebrow, and picks up her knitting, not commenting on how suddenly I ended the lesson.
"So what is this interesting something?" she asks.
I take a deep breath, wondering if this is such a good idea.
"There was a news report," I say. "Scientists claim they can detect human consciousness. Even outside of a body."
"Scientists, pff," says Mrs. Goldstein, her fingers a blur as they whip the yarn around the points of her needles.
"The press release sort of says they detected ghosts," I say softly, feeling like a total hypocrite.
"Do they now?" Mrs. Goldstein lowers her knitting again. Her sharp green eyes fix on me, unblinking.
"Well, yeah," I say, feeling bolder. "I mean if scientists now admit that ghosts exist, then not everyone who claims to see them will automatically be called a liar and a fake."
"Ahh, Sammie," says Mrs. Goldstein, sighing. "Do you think this news will mean there will be fewer liars and fakes? Or make people more tolerant?"
I recognize the truth of her words, and sag into my armchair.
"I think," says Mrs. Goldstein, her shrewd eyes on me, "that anyone who sees ghosts is much better off keeping it to themselves."
I nod, a twinge of sadness hitching my chest. My head buzzes as Mrs. Goldstein slowly starts to fade, then vanishes.
The six kids in the first Students in Space project are marooned aboard the new International Space Station after it is damaged by a terrorist strike. Now they must scramble to survive until NASA sends a rescue mission, or die trying.
A girl fearing to let people know she can talk to ghosts is kidnapped from a government research facility by a rogue scientist. He transfers her mind into a cat's body and forces her to spy on his competitors. Now she has to overcome his schemes or never regain her own body again.
A lonely teenage boy struggles to overcome the perils of the Mojave desert, and the suspicion of three genetically enhanced children, in order to rescue them from unscrupulous scientists.
UPGRADES was a Finalist in the 2016 Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children's Literature, sponsored by Connecticut's Shoreline Arts Alliance.
EYES OF THE BEHOLDER
A blind boy given vision by a puppy he rescues from the side of the road is forced to escape a kidnapper in order to save both himself and his very special dog.
EYES OF THE BEHOLDER was a Finalist in the 2015 Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children's Literature, sponsored by Connecticut's Shoreline Arts Alliance.
The Trans-Atlantic Causeway project was supposed to be the dream summer internship for four teenage friends. But that was before they stumble into sabotage, murder and espionage.
CAUSEWAY was a Finalist in the 2014 Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children's Literature, sponsored by Connecticut's Shoreline Arts Alliance.
A teenage boy living in the asteroid belt fights to prevent a ruthless corporation from destroying his father's giant ice asteroid, to save his family, friends, and the entire belter community.