The bus pulled out, leaving Adam alone in the school yard. Zach’s Zombies waved and made faces out the back window. He would have been on time if Zach hadn’t hidden his clothes during gym.
“Hurry. Elaine needs you.”
Adam looked around and scratched his head. It sounded like Mamaw’s voice, but that wasn’t possible. Imaginary voice or not, he had to get home before the little kids got out of school. Elaine did need him. She didn’t have a key to the house, and he was supposed to watch her until Mom got home from work. He threw his backpack on and ran. If he cut through Mr. Dunlap’s farm, he might get home before she did, and Mr. Dunlap wouldn’t mind if he didn’t hurt the crop.
Sweat fell in his eyes, but he kept moving. Jumping the fence to the country road they lived on, he saw Elaine running for the house with the Zombies in pursuit. He dropped his backpack and ran full out. When he reached the mailbox, they had turned around and nearly ran over him, their bicycle tires spraying dirt and rocks from the driveway.
Elaine ran over, “Mamaw really showed them! Did you see how fast they were moving?”
Sucking in air, he muttered, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Mamaw showed up and scared them away. You saw them leave. Do you think the Zombies would have moved that fast to get away from me?” She tapped her foot and glared at Adam.
Adam scratched his jaw. Zach didn’t have enough brains to know he was being insulted when he gave Zack and his cronies the Zombie nickname. Zack thought it was brilliant and used the name himself. Bullies, they picked on Elaine and the younger kids in the area. It was the reason he ran home from school after missing the bus. Even though middle school ended thirty minutes before the elementary school, he was late. “Okay, tell me everything that happened.”
“We got off the bus like always. Since you weren’t there to walk everyone home, I did. We went to Sara’s mailbox first. Jeremy and Jonah were next. The Zombies followed us, but they stayed back. When we got to Charlene’s driveway, they picked up speed. She ran to her house, and I crossed the street and ran for ours. They closed in, with Zack yelling something, but I didn’t listen. I kept running. ‘Never look back. Keep your eyes on where you’re going.’ That’s what you say, and that’s what I did. I reached the door, but it was locked. That’s when she showed up.”
“Mamaw, silly. I could see through her to the look on Zach’s face. The Zombies turned and beat it down the drive. She kind of floated over and said, ‘If Adam isn’t waiting for your bus, you walk home with someone else and call the house.’
“Mmm, that’s good advice.”
“Of course it is. Mamaw always has good advice,” Elaine said. “I’ll bet Mama will be surprised when she hears about this.”
He walked her to the house and unlocked the door. ”Maybe we shouldn’t tell Mom. It might make her sad she wasn’t here. From now on you walk home with someone if I don’t meet the bus.”
He fixed them both a snack of fruit and settled Elaine at the desk to do homework. While she wrote out spelling words, he walked out on the front porch. What did Elaine see? They had buried Mamaw the week before. He took a deep breath and smelled the rosemary scent she always wore. “Mamaw, if that was you today, thanks. Don’t worry. I won’t be late ever again. I’ll make sure Elaine is safe after school.”
For a second he thought he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He wasn’t sure about ghosts, but something scared Zach’s Zombies. They sped past him. A slow smile spread across his face. Zach screamed like a little girl.