Title: Exorcising Aaron Nguyen
Author: Lauren Harris
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Publisher: Pendragon Press
The murder of Millroad Catholic Academy's resident genius, Aaron Nguyen, shuts down student life at the boarding school in rural North Carolina...for about a week. With the resilience of youth, the student body bounces back, and the memory of murder is nothing but a streamer of caution tape fluttering in the breeze.
Unfortunately for them, Aaron's spirit has some resilience as well. Despite the priest's attempted exorcism, Aaron's ghost is soon breathing chills down the students' necks and hurling bunsen burners at nuns.
Georgia Collins doesn't give a shit about ghosts. All she wants is a story to prove her underground school news blog is more than a gossip column, closure on her one-sided relationship with her best friend Hiroki, and a vanilla latte. She wasn't expecting Aaron Nguyen's death to be anything more than a cold spot in the science hall, but since Hiroki has the curse of Spectral Sight, he is the only person who can see and speak to Aaron.
As the ghost’s demands for attention become increasingly violent, Hiroki enlists Georgia to help him investigate the crime, claiming that Aaron isn’t likely to move on until his killers are caught. Still hoping for spontaneous romantic combustion, she agrees to help bring Aaron's murderers to justice and set the vengeful spirit free...but it's not quite the close encounter she's hoping for.
What’s a Little Murder Between Friends?
Exactly one week after Aaron Nguyen’s body appeared on the soccer field with his head smashed in, I found my best friend, Hiroki Satou, leafing through an exorcism manual behind the chapel. The 9 a.m. sun punched the silhouette of our school’s new steeple into the brick courtyard, as if to remind students in the shadow of that looming crucifix that Jesus was always watching, even if the teachers usually weren’t. The acrid scent of cigarette smoke cut through the air, which was already dense with the grass and magnolia perfume of a late North Carolina summer.
As usual, Hiroki was smoking, posed in a languid slump against the brick wall. The manual, though—he usually didn’t bring that sort of thing out of his room. I slid into the shade next to him, and he shook the book at me without looking up.
"Ghosts are bad enough," he said around his cigarette, careless of ash falling on the lapel of his school blazer. "Asian ghosts are fucking terrifying."
I rolled my eyes. Hiroki had spoken English of some variety since he was a kid, but he’d only been in the states for six years. There were a few things he still didn't get right all the time—prepositions, articles, idioms like "you can't have your cake and eat it too" (which, if I thought too hard about it, didn't make any goddamn sense to me either)—but I took personal pride in the fact that, by the end of sophomore year, he'd perfected the vast and varied usage of the word "fuck". Sure, he'd done all the memorizing and mistake-making, but I wiped a lot of spit off our desks teaching him how to pronounce the "f".
He flipped the page in a book filled with low-res “paranormal” crime scene photographs, and blew a stream of smoke away from me. The brick courtyard separating us from the soccer field still trailed the remains of last week’s flimsy caution tape, like morbid party streamers no one had bothered to take down. Half the nuns clustered at the edge of the grass, clutching their rosaries and shaking their heads. Sister Joseph Ann wept quietly into her wrinkled hands. I glanced past them to the field, waving away smoke that drifted toward me despite Hiroki’s efforts.
School activities had been cancelled for the past week, allowing the students extra time to deal with the trauma of a murder no one understood. There’d been lots of loud crying by people who’d never spoken to Aaron, and I guess I couldn’t blame them. Maybe they were distressed at the thought of murder so close, or maybe they saw it as an opportunity to get attention. Personally, I wanted to blog about it, but it seemed disrespectful to report hearsay and my blog wasn’t a gossip rag, no matter what people said - I never report anything I can’t back up. To be honest, I didn’t feel qualified to talk about murder.
Aaron’s ghost showing up, though, was a twist I might have an inside scoop on. Hiroki was saddled with the unfortunate talent of spectral sight, which made him something of an expert on ghosts. Just before morning Mass, he’d spotted Aaron’s spirit sulking translucently at the top of the stairwell to the science lab and alerted one of the nuns.
“Did you talk to the police already?” I asked.
He gave a one-shouldered shrug. “An officer came by, but I haven’t talked to Aaron’s spirit. I just saw him. I don’t have anything they can use to look for evidence.” He tapped his heel against the brick, avoiding my gaze. Though the ghost hadn’t caused any trouble beyond a couple floating beakers and a spontaneously-lit bunsen burner, Hiroki was jumpy, and his unease made me nervous. He wasn’t usually afraid of them.
"So what's Aaron Nguyen's vengeful spirit going to do?” I asked. “Strangle students with computer cables? Program a continuous loop of Justin Beiber into the PA system?"
Hiroki smirked, glancing up. I tried not to notice the cutwork pattern of light stealing through the courtyard trees and lighting his irises to eerie amber. I'd given up on him in sophomore year, when I realized personality would never matter as much as the fact that I was three inches taller and about seventy pounds heavier. But he was too goddamn pretty for his own good sometimes.
I'd been in love with him since sixth grade, when he'd transferred from his school in Arashiyama, Japan to Millroad Catholic Academy—a grades 6-10 boarding school built in bumfuck middle-of-nowhere North Carolina. It was like one of those schools you read about in old British novels, except there was no lake for Clandestine Rowboats of Boy-on-Boy Snuggling (unfortunately) and the field across from our winding front drive sported twenty seven rusting cars and a deer stand.
He flipped a few more pages in the book and leaned away from the chapel’s brick wall, peering around my shoulder at the be-habited faculty. “They’re going to drench the place in holy water, say some Our Fathers, and expect Aaron to pack up and go like a good little Catholic ghost.”
I raised my eyebrow. “I don’t think that’s how exorcisms work. Omnis immunde spiritus and all that shit.”
“Yeah, well, I can tell you one thing—a Catholic exorcism isn’t going to work on a Buddhist ghost.”
I wasn’t surprised to hear Aaron had been Buddhist. A number of kids at our school weren’t Catholic, including Hiroki and me, but we attended because it was the only school around with a decent college acceptance rate. Parents who wanted their kids to go to university bought uniforms, made checks out to Jesus, and packed their bewildered kids off to Mass.
“I didn’t realize it mattered what religion the ghost was. Is. Whatever.”
“It does if it’s the kind of ghost that can be exorcised.”
Hiroki avoided my gaze as he took another long drag of his cigarette and watched the nuns file somberly back into the school for assembly. There was something in that statement he didn’t want me dwelling on.
He exhaled smoke through his nose in a long sigh. “We might as well poke around.” He shoved the book into his messenger bag and slung it around behind him.
“What does that mean?” I asked, glancing at the door to the chapel. The cool stone interior beckoned me, promising a nap-length assembly followed by an iced vanilla latte, and I really didn’t want to play the Watson to his Sherlock unless he was willing to reenact some pretty specific fanfiction. “I am not going to the morgue to touch his body.”
“Ew,” Hiroki said, a little skipping-shudder in his step. “No. I mean his murder. I’m not going near a dead body—gross.”
I guess there was Seeing Dead People, and there was seeing dead people. I wasn’t in a hurry to do either.
“How are you planning to just ‘poke around’ his murder case? The police are all up in here twice a day.”
“No idea yet. I’ll have a plan by lunchtime.”
I power walked after him. “You know I’m all for investigative journalism,” I said, “but don’t you think snooping through crime scenes and threatening possible witnesses is sort of a bad idea?”
He shrugged, reaching for the door to the chapel and heaving it open. A gust of cool air reached out, snagging us both. “Probably.” He stepped into the relative darkness of the hallway and glanced back at me. “When has that ever stopped you?”
About the Author:
Lauren is a fantasy writer, voice actress, and the co-creator of 2012 Parsec Finalist, Pendragon Variety Podcast for aspiring writers of genre fiction, where she is known as "Scribe."
Her voice acting can be heard on Audible.com as well as fiction podcasts such as EscapePod, The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine, and The Drabblecast B-Sides.
Though she spent three years living in Tokyo, she currently resides in a renovated tobacco shed in rural North Carolina, where she is pleased to have running water, wifi, and all her teeth.