What I'm going to tell you now might seem really weird and you're probably not even going to believe me. But I live next door to Miss Violet Tilley, see... and I saw most of what happened there, and I heard it all. In fact, I saw just about everything that happened on this street in the last couple of weeks... and that's because of Miss McCullough and her lame term paper assignment.
My name is Jasmine Beasley and I'm in the 11th grade at Helzville High school in (you guessed it!) the town of Helzville, North Carolina. Us kids, we just call it Hell High. I never thought much about the name of this place until now; and I'll tell you why later. Right now, let's get back to Miss McCullough.
I used to like English really well before Whacko Wallabee. That's what we call her because she wears a dirty old pair of Wallabees every single day of her life. And the only way to describe her approach to teaching is to say it is definitely "whacko". So therefore...Whacko Wallabee.
She comes up with these freaky assignments all the time that make no sense to normal people, and we have to do them, because if you don't, she gives you a bad grade, and then there goes any decent college. And then you have to go to the community college with all the blockheads, and 'good old boy' off-springs. If you know what I mean.
So like, she wears these shoes, right, that must be a fifty years old at least. And it doesn't matter what else she's wearing with them. One time she chaperoned the Junior Prom. I just heard this, but I'll bet it's true. And she wore this red dress that had, like, puffy sleeves and a big fake flower at the waist. And you guessed it... the Wallabees. Nobody can figure it out, but then nobody wants to get close enough to ask her. Did I forget to mention that she has a powerful need to be introduced to a stick of deodorant?
So, this term paper I was telling you about. It was to observe some of the people who live on my street; and then write about the different folks and the way they live. Simple, right? Wrong! I live on a street with about the most bizarre humans on the planet, and my family is right up there alongside the other weirdos. I'll tell you about them pretty soon.
The other part of the term paper was supposed to be how we felt about what we saw, and our feelings about the lives of our neighbors. And we had to write it in the first person...which means writing it like now, me talking to you. So to start, I have to be honest with you. I always knew the folks on Lucifer Lane weren't entirely normal, but I never dreamed they were as crazy as they really are.
It was like, a really hot day in Helzville about two weeks ago when Wallabee first gave us this totally bogus assignment. It was the beginning of Spring Break, so we still had a couple of months of school left before summer vacation, but not a whole long time to write a term paper.
Now, this is where I start my paper. Like "once upon a time" and all that. So... pay attention. I swear it's all true...every word. Except sometimes I may put in my two-cents here and there, to clarify a point. My stuff isn't in the actual paper, because Wallabee would flunk me for sure.
And remember, I'm really only telling you about all this because I thought you'd find my term paper kind of...interesting, and maybe you'll start checking up on your neighbors, too.
P.S. This whole prologue is NOT part of the paper I'm turning in. If Wallabee ever saw this, my name would be Mud... not Jasmine...
THE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT LUCIFER LANE
By Jasmine Irene Beasley
The Beasleys at #111
To begin with, I'll describe Helzville, North Carolina, just so you'll get some idea of what I'm talking about. If you've ever seen that play, OUR TOWN, which I saw last year in Chapel Hill, I want you to know that Helzville is not anything like Grovers Corners. Not even close. Not like Smallville, not like Pleasantville, not like any "ville" you've ever heard of.
This town is about 10 miles west of Winston-Salem in North Carolina, right in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The only really good thing going for it is that it sits right off Interstate 40. That's good, because you can get away fast if you can't stand it anymore. Oh, and the leaves look really awesome up here in the Fall.
A lot of the people who live in Helzville work in Winston-Salem or even Greensboro, and say they don't mind the commute because they love the quaintness and small town feel here more than they hate the drive. There are still lots of folks who live and work in town though. There are the teachers and the police, and the guys who work in Wendy's, etc. And a lot of us are kids who go to school here and feel like we're sort of trapped, if ya' know what I mean.
There are about eight thousand people in Helzville, so it's not tiny as North Carolina towns go, but it's not real big either. And when Walston Brooks College is out for the summer, the population drops by about four thousand.
Why anyone would want to actually go to WBC is way beyond me. Maybe it has something to do with going to a college where there are lots of good-old boys.
There are some really choice houses over on the west side of town. That's where the hospital is and the WBC campus. Then there are a couple of trailer parks to the north of town. The rest of us folks live in regular neighborhoods. Some are newer houses, but most of us live in old houses built in, like...maybe the 1970s or around there.
The downtown is sort of cute... if you're into cute. There's Harold's Drug Store, which still has an old fashioned soda fountain where a lot of the kids hang out after school.
Harold came from New York, like a hundred years ago or something, and he makes these things that are really delicious that he calls Egg Creams.
They're made from milk and chocolate syrup and club soda and don't have any egg in them at all. They sure do things strange up North.
Then there's Wild Kids Records, and Emma's Coffee Shop where you can get outstanding pecan pie with vanilla ice cream, which I could easily live on indefinitely. Northlander's Emporium sells a little of just about everything from strange imported cereals to Justin Beiber tee-shirts. The Courthouse and Police Station are down at the end of Magnolia Street, and so is the Helzville Herald. Oh, and all the stores on Magnolia have flower planters outside and red and white striped awnings. Like I said...cute!
Now, about my street, Lucifer Lane. It really is a lane, an old country lane. We are at the northwestern most corner of Helzville, and we can see the foothills from our windows. We're surrounded by trees that turn awesome colors in the Fall, and lots of pine trees that stay green all year in case you're missing the other trees.
There are only six houses on my street. There's us, the Beasleys (that's me), at #111, right next door is Miss Violet Tilley at #112, and next to her is crazy Bertha McGee at #114. Everyone calls her Bertie, and you'll find out why later on.
I have no idea who decided the numbers, but it doesn't make too much sense to me why they just didn't start with one and end with six.
On the other side at #113 are the O'Neills; Kevin and Samantha. They're really nice, and pretty normal... or so I thought, until I met their house guest Harry Hellman. And next to them at #116 is Renny Lopez and her mother, Elena. I hang out with Renny sometimes, when she's not helping her mother. She doesn't have a father, but I always thought she was pretty well adjusted for only living with a mother. Life is full of surprises!
The last house, or should I say farm, belongs to Clyde W. Foster III at #116. A total and bonafide lunatic. But not without a very tiny good side. His place is at the very end of the street, and it's set back a ways from the road. You can hardly see it unless you go up the gravel driveway.
Problem being, if you do that, you're nearly as crazy as Clyde, because he'd sooner kill you than look at you... is what I heard. He's been living there all his life, and I guess his folks before that. But I have to tell you, I deserve a gold medal for snooping on that guy.
Okay... so that's Lucifer Lane, and I guess I'll start by telling you about us, the Beasleys. I'll tell you how an average morning goes in my house, and you'll see that my family fits right in with the other bizarre people on this street.
I know it's kind of weird to be snooping on your own parents, but how can I write a paper about Lucifer Lane without including us? There's my mother, Lettie, my father, Fuller, and my cat, Noodles. I'm an only child, which I never minded when I was little, because I got all the attention. But now that I'm fifteen, I sure wish I had another kid in the house to help deal with the insanity.
What insanity, you ask? Just wait...
So on that particular day, there I was minding my own business and trying to eat my breakfast in peace, and there's my mother talking on the phone to her equally strange friend, Armeena Daily.
"Well, I know that, Armeena. Everybody--nearly the whole world--was at that silly old picnic. So why did you even expect that Henry wouldn't show his lying, cheating face? And besides, there's just not a thing you can do about it, now is there?"
Then she turns to me, like out of the blue and says, "Go easy on that jelly, girl. You'll have a back side the size of Alabama, you keep slathering on all that sugar." And then she goes right back to Armeena, so she didn't see me roll my eyes.
"He lives in this town too, you know. So if you'd just stick your big nose out of his business, it might not bother you so damned much to see him about from time to time. You know what I'm saying to you, Armeena?
I mean, so what if she's only thirty? She's dumb and ugly and the size of a small rhino. Look, I've gotta go, Armeena. Yes, he's doing fine, same as always, never changes."
Then she just listened for a minute, getting red in the face. "Well, that's your opinion, Armeena. You don't have to do it yourself if you don't like it. Everybody's free to make their own..."
She listens again, and then says, "Goodbye, Armeena. I'll call you about the Flea Market."
My mother hung up the phone and sat down at the table with me. No doubt to make sure I wasn't eating my way onto the Fat Farm.
"Honest to Heaven, that woman is such a busy body, I just don't know how she stands herself," she complained. Like I hadn't heard this 800 times before.
"Why are you friends with her if she makes you so mad all the time?"
"Because I feel sorry for her, that's why."
"Well then, maybe you should just get another cat from the shelter or something," I said.
And her reply was, "We have a cat, Jasmine." And she points to the old tabby sitting on Daddy's lap. "Now go ask your Daddy if he wants some coffee."
"He doesn't. He's watching TV. The morning soaps are on."
"My, you're a fresh one today, girl. Now just lift those jam filled buttocks of yours off that chair and go ask your Daddy, like I said."
I threw down my piece of toast, walked over to my father and said, "Hey, Pop, you want something to eat? Toast, coffee, collards, how about some chicken and dumplings with hot buttermilk biscuits that just float right off the plate?"
"Cut it out, Jasmine, you're getting my blood boiling about now."
My mother again...
So, I petted the cat and started watching the TV, leaning over the top of my father's chair. My mother came over to the chair too, and put her hand on Daddy's shoulder.
"Well?" she said.
"What?" I said.
"Does he want something?" she said.
"He said no, he doesn't want anything," I said.
She just shook her head like she knew what I was saying, but she really didn't, and you'll figure out why soon enough.
Then, of course, because she can't go thirty seconds without picking on me, she said, "Why on earth do you have to watch this awful junk, Jasmine. Can't you see it's all a bunch of strange and ignorant people who are never happy and are always jumping in and out of bed all day long. I don't think you should know about that stuff, Jasmine. It's unhealthy."
"Mama, I know plenty; I'm sixteen for heaven's sake. And besides, they aren't all strange and ignorant. That's what life is really like everywhere except here."
"Nonsense! That's all it is," she insisted. "They're just crazy people. Here we are, this normal family, living a normal, quiet life. Makes us look kind of boring, don't you think?
I couldn't help it, and I said, "Look, again, Mama! Look at us! Like we were an okay, normal family, like you think? Only we aren't! We're like a house full of loonies!!"
"Jasmine Irene Beasley... now you just get control of yourself right now and sit down."
"No, Mama, I'm not sitting! This is making me crazy. All the kids are saying so!
Then, in typical Lettie Beasley fashion, she yelled at me, "What do you mean, all the kids are saying so? Have you been telling our private matters all around town?"
I couldn't help it, but I started to yell back and cry too. "No, Mama, I'm not telling our private, dirty stuff all around town. Who would believe me anyway? Nobody, that's who. Besides... you think I want all the kids calling me crazy or worse just because you did something freaky? It's bad enough I've got to live here, in this nut-house."
This, of course, made my Mother yell even louder. "Now that's enough of that! You just mind your mouth, Jasmine, or I'll have to take out my brown soap."
Then I lost it! "Go ahead! You think that would be any worse than living in this insane asylum?"
That made her get real quiet, and speak real soft...which is always very scary. "There is nothing wrong with your family, Jasmine Beasley. We are just as normal as the rest of those folks out there. You have had no experience out in the real world, so you just don't know that there's a lot of folks a whole lot crazier than us."
"You expect me to believe that?" I said. "There are no humans on this planet that are as creepy as us!"
She got even quieter. "Stop! Just stop this, you hear me. You're upsetting Noodles with your loud voice, and if you don't stop your shouting, you'll be waking your Daddy, just when he's finally taking a nap."
"Oh my gosh, Mama...I can't stand this! I can't! I'll be the only sixteen-year-old in North Carolina to have a nervous breakdown. I have to get out of here right now. I'm going over to Lynette Butcher's for a while so I can...I don't know what... so I can breathe."
Then I stormed out of the house and down the steps as my mother called after me...
"'That's good, Baby. You go. It'll do you good to get out. And on your way back, could you remember to stop at Mr. Melville's, and get me a large roll of wide adhesive tape and a fly swatter?"
"Yes, Mama," I said a little too sarcastically, as I wiped the tears out of my eyes.
"Thank you, Jasmine. You're a good girl. You're upset now. You'll go to see your little friend, and when you come on home, you'll feel a whole lot better."
I knew I wouldn't, and I'll tell you why a little later...