Once, not long ago at all, a fourth grade boy and girl were kept after school.
George, named for his father and grandfather, and Anaea, named for a butterfly, fidgeted at their desks. Anaea’s nickname was Nea. George had no nickname except for the secret one that Nea called him.
Mr. Kuhne, their teacher, was usually kind to them. But they had helped each other during a quiz, and he really had no choice. He was sitting front of them, typing on his lap top computer, when the principal’s office paged him and he stepped out of the classroom.
George whispered across the aisle. “Nea, I don’t like being alone in here.”
“Nobody does. Cynthia says the room is haunted. She says windows slide open and pages turn in books, all by themselves.”
But Mr. Kuhne, who was so old he was going to retire, said that he loved his classroom and had never wanted to leave it. Which was good, because none of the other teachers wanted to move in.
George stood up. “I ain’t scared.” And then he was, because an erasable marker looped out of the tray and wrote. AIN’T on the white board. Then it drew a line through AIN’T and wrote AM NOT.
George ducked his cropped blond hair toward Anaea’s red curls. “Nea, did you see that?”
“Look at the board!”
“I don’t see nothing except some words.”
And then gasped, because the marker swung back up, wrote and crossed out DON’T SEE NOTHING. Then the marker wrote DON’T SEE ANYTHING!
“Let’s get out of here!”
“We can’t, Nea. Mr. Kuhne will give us another detention.”
“But I’m really scared.”
They sat for a few seconds, and then the marker wrote again. ISABEL HOPKINS.
George whispered, “who’s Isabel Hopkins?”
“Never heard of her.”
George was clutching both sides of his desk in fear. He raised his voice. “Who’s Isabel Hopkins?”
The marker slid from left to right, underlining the name.
Just then Mr. Kuhne opened the door and walked back in. Nea pointed to the board wordlessly, but when Mr. Kuhne turned around it was blank.
“What is it Anaea?”
“I- I thought I saw something on the board.”
“There’s nothing there.”
Mr. Kuhne sat back down in front of his lap top and began typing. George fidgeted for a few minutes and then had to speak out. “Who’s Isabel Hopkins?”
“How do you know that name?” Mr Kuhne looked upset, and then very sad. “It’s no secret. She died years ago here in school, in this room, in fact. She was a teacher, like me.”
“How did she die?”
“It’s called an aneurism, Anaea, a ruptured blood vessel.”
“She was your friend?”
“Yes, George. I was planning on asking her to be my special friend, but she died before I could ask her.” Mr. Kuhne’s eyes were moist, staring backwards into sadness.
“But enough of that. You two have been here long enough. Go home, please, and don’t let me catch you whispering during a quiz again.”
“No Mr Kuhne,” they chimed.
That night Anaea and George telephoned back and forth.
“Did you tell your mom?”
“Uh-uh, Nea, she wouldn’t believe me.”
“But we saw it!”
“I think we did. Look, Nea, let’s get to school early tomorrow and see what happens if we write on the board.”
Anaea was afraid for them to go into class by themselves, but George reminded her that the spirit had really just been like another teacher.
George grabbed the erasable marker as soon as they walked into the classroom.
“What’re you going to write?”
“I dunno. Maybe her name?”
He wrote ISABEL HOPKINS. Nothing happened. He underlined the name. Nothing. Then, to the right of ISABEL HOPKINS he wrote, IS DEAD.
Nea gasped as another marker swung out from the tray. I KNOW I AM, it wrote.
George wanted to run out of the room, but, more curious than brave, stayed where he stood.
WHY ARE YOU HERE? he wrote.
I CAN’T LEAVE THE ROOM.
Anaea had recovered some courage of her own. She took the marker from George and wrote: MISTER KUHNE LIKES YOU.
I KNOW HE DOES. I LIKE HIM TOO.
Anaea and George didn’t know what else to write. The second marker swung again. NEA ISN’T IT? AND GEORGIE?
George grabbed the marker from Anaea. I HATE GEORGIE!
OH. WHAT DOES NEA CALL YOU?
TREY, BECAUSE I’M GEORGE III.
TREY IT IS.
Just then another student came to the classroom door. George gave a panicky look for the eraser, but the board that had just been covered with writing was clear white again.
Anaea and George were poor students that day, their minds very far away from the mathematics Mr. Kuhne was teaching. They whispered together after class and agreed to come early the next morning as well.
Anaea started the writing. CAN YOU TALK?
NO, NEA, I CAN ONLY GET INSIDE THINGS AND MOVE THEM.
CAN WE SEE YOU?
MAYBE A FEW WISPS, BUT NOT REALLY.
George took the marker. ARE YOU HAPPY?
There was a long pause. NO, TREY. I CAN NEVER HAVE WHAT I WANT, BUT HAVE BEEN CLOSE TO HIM FOR YEARS. I WISH IT WERE DIFFERENT.
Nea took the marker. MISTER KUHNE?
There was no response. Nea and Trey wrote more questions without getting an answer, and finally just wiped off the board and sat down.
After school Nea and Trey talked for hours. They weren’t afraid any more, and were bursting with excitement. They wanted to help, to do something, but didn’t know what.
It was Nea who had the idea. They went early to class again.
MISS HOPKINS, MAYBE THERE’S A WAY TO MAKE YOUR WISH COME TRUE. CAN YOU TYPE ON COMPUTER KEYS?
COULD YOU TYPE ON MISTER KUHNE’S COMPUTER?
OH! YES I COULD, BUT IT WOULD SCARE HIM.
MAYBE, BUT IF YOU WROTE THE RIGHT THINGS IT WOULD ALSO MAKE HIM INTERESTED.
Miss Hopkins’ spirit finally agreed. Nea and Trey knew that for their plan to work Mr. Kuhne’s computer had to be set up so Miss Hopkins could type. That meant they had to stay after school again.
The next day in class, Nea and Trey blatantly exchanged notes, talked, and even argued. But Mr. Kuhne was either forgiving or preoccupied, because he just kept cautioning them. By mid-afternoon they were desperate. Nea finally just launched himself into Trey and started a mock fight. That did it. They were both detained after school.
When Mr. Kuhne left to go to the copy room, Nea raced up to his computer, which thankfully was already opened and running. She switched the screen to a text document and sat back down. For the next ten minutes Nea and Trey could hear the faint tapping of computer keys.
Mr. Kuhne came back in with his arms full of sheets of paper. He ignored his laptop while he assembled and stapled the sheets for tomorrow’s classes. Nea and Trey were twitching with excitement but couldn’t say a word.
Finally Mr. Kuhne glanced at his lap top screen. His face went very pale. He stared up with angry eyes at Nea and Trey. “Did you do this?” he rasped.
“Do what, Mr. Kuhne?”
“Never mind. Did anyone come into the class while I was gone?”
“No, Mr. Kuhne.”
Mr. Kuhne, usually so friendly, glared at them with suspicion before swinging his eyes back onto the computer screen. As he kept reading his face reddened and his expression turned into a lop-sided smile, as if he were embarrassed.
“Did you see what’s written here?”
“No Mr. Kuhne.” Nea and Trey were relieved. So far they’d been able to tell the truth, more or less.
Mr. Kuhne sat in front of the computer for several minutes, then began typing slowly, with many changes and corrections. He stopped typing and sat motionless.
The computer’s keys began clicking back at him. Mr. Kuhne jumped backwards, knocking his chair over.
“Anaea, George, go home now! Now, please.” He paused. “I don’t know what’s going on here, and I don’t want you two to be hurt.”
Nea was bouncing in her seat.”But Mr. Kuhne..”
As Nea and Trey left they watched over their shoulders. Mr. Kuhne set his chair back upright and began reading the new message. He waved his hand to shoo them out faster.
The two children were back on their telephones as soon as they got home.
“He didn’t shut off the computer!”
“No, he actually answered her. He’s probably still scared though.”
Nea and Trey couldn’t get into class early or peek at the lap top screen for another week. But one day when Trey went to the white board to write the solution to a math problem he glanced backwards at Mr. Kuhne’s desk. There was a picture on the screen of a smiling young woman with long chestnut hair. Trey knew it had to be Miss Hopkins.
The next morning the two children were able to get into the classroom early. As soon as the door shut behind them a marker jumped up from the tray and began writing.
THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Nea had the other marker. DOES HE STILL LIKE YOU? IS HE AFRAID?
IT’S WONDERFUL, YES HE DOES, NO HE ISN’T. BUT…
HE HAS TO RETIRE IN JUNE. HE HAS TO LEAVE THE SCHOOL AND I’LL STILL BE TRAPPED HERE.
Nea felt her sadness. THAT’S AWFUL.
YES, BUT THANKS TO YOU I HAVE THE NEXT TWO MONTHS.
Trey and Nea went home without saying much to each other. There wasn’t much to say. Miss Hopkins would still be kept within the classroom, and wouldn’t even see Mr. Kuhne anymore.
It was Trey who a month later concocted another idea. He almost dragged Nea back into the classroom early. He grabbed a marker and wrote: MISS HOPKINS, CAN YOU GET INSIDE THE LAP TOP?
YES TREY, I CAN, BUT WHY WOULD I BOTHER?
MAYBE IT’S MR. KUHNE YOU’RE BOUND TO AND NOT THE CLASSROOM. KEEP TRYING TO STAY INSIDE THE LAP TOP WHEN IT LEAVES THE CLASS WITH MR. KUHNE. I THINK AFTER A FEW FAILURES YOU’LL BE ABLE TO REACH MR. KUHNE’S HOUSE!
I DON’T THINK SO TREY, BUT I’LL TRY.
For two more weeks nothing seemed to happen. Then, one morning as Trey and Nea and the other students entered the class they noticed one word written in big heavy letters on the white board:
The students asked each other what the the word meant, but Nea and Trey just smiled and said nothing. When Mr. Kuhne came into the classroom he smiled too, but stayed silent and just erased the word.
Trey and Nea agreed that they would leave Miss Hopkins and Mr. Kuhne to themselves, and not write on the board again unless Isabel Hopkins contacted them. She never did.
Mr. Kuhne retired, lap top and all. At his school retirement party he especially thanked Nea and Trey, although he never said why he was thanking them.
A few years passed. Nea and Trey were in high school. One day their mothers and fathers were called and asked to bring the two teenagers to a lawyer’s office. The lawyer had a lap top computer plugged in and running on his desk. Trey and Nea knew it was Mr. Kuhne’s.
“I’ve asked you here,” the lawyer said, “to read you part of Mr. Kuhne’s will. It is certainly unusual. You two must have been his favorite students.
“Mr. Kuhne has set up trusts which will pay for all college expenses for Anaea and George. There are, however, peculiar stipulations. You children must agree to keep this lap top computer on for at least ten hours each day, and arrange for any necessary repairs. You may add to the computer’s memory but must never, ever erase any of the memory.
“He asks that Anaea take custody of the computer, saying that she was always much neater than George. Mr. Kuhne has set up his machine so that George always has access to it from a computer of his own, which Mr. Kuhne has provided.
“If these terms are agreeable I need George and Anaea to sign some papers.”
Nea and Trey went around the desk and stood on each side of the lawyer. The computer screen was lit in front of them. Two faces smiled at them. One was the chestnut haired woman Trey had seen some years ago. The other was Mr. Kuhne, but younger and happier. They had their arms around each other. Across the bottom of the screen it read:
MAY YOUR WISHES ALSO COME TRUE.