With Drawn: Part 43 — Pleas for Help

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 42 — Take Charge

Mr. Abbott and his class waited in the corner of room 102. They were all watching the thin band of light sneaking under the classroom door from the hallway. And the large shadow that kept breaking that band of light.

Jacob Grist called in through the locked door, “C’mon, Tommy, you need to come out of there.”

Billy Warner was sitting on the floor with the other students, and he said to Tommy, “C’mon, Tommy, just go out there and see what he wants.”

Tommy said, “No way.”

Billy said, “But he said he only wants you, Tommy.”

Tommy said, “I don’t care. I’m not going out there.”

Billy said, “But you’re the one that’s always bullying him. You need to go out there.”

Tommy said to Billy, “You were just as mean to that kid as anyone else.”

Billy turned to Mr. Abbott, Billy saying to the teacher, “Shouldn’t Tommy go out there, Mr. Abbott?”

Mr. Abbott looked like he needed to vomit.

Whatever was outside in the hallway with Jacob Grist growled again and scratched on the classroom door.

Mr. Abbott said to Tommy, “Maybe you should just go out and see what he wants.”

Tommy stared at Mr. Abbott.

Billy said, “Yeah, see? Even Mr. Abbott thinks you should go.”

Meanwhile, John Berkley rushed through the Mystic Island Middle School’s hallways. He could hear the screams and mayhem throughout the school, but luckily, he had yet to run into any wild dogs or ball-playing zombies. John could also hear the sounds of sirens in the distance. While John rushed through the hallways, he flipped through his address book, and when he found the phone number he was looking for, he dialed it on his cell phone.

As John was dialing the number on his cell phone, across town, in the living room of the abandoned house at 42 Savage Street, Joanne Walsh was regarding the mural her son had painted on the wall.

Joanne’s cell phone rang. Joanne answered the phone, saying, “What?”

This is not the standard way to answer a phone. Most people say, hello, when answering a phone, but Joanne was very distracted at the moment.

John Berkley’s voice came across the phone. John was shouting this into the phone: “Mrs. Walsh? Mrs. Walsh?”

This is not the standard way to start a phone conversation either.

Joanne didn’t respond right away. First off, she couldn’t quite place whose voice it was shouting at her over the phone. And secondly, Joanne heard very strange sounds in the background, sounds like screaming.

Then something clicked in Joanne, and for some reason, Joanne suddenly realized exactly to whom she was speaking.

Joanne said into the phone, “Mr. Berkley? Is that you?”

Mr. Berkley’s shouting voice came over the phone, “Mrs. Walsh, there seems to be a problem with Jacob.”

Joanne’s stomach dropped as she heard more of the sounds of distant screaming coming over the phone.

As you may have guessed, her stomach did not physically drop from her abdomen. She was having a fight or flight reaction to the thought that her son was in danger, and the blood vessels around her stomach constricted very suddenly, sending blood to her extremities.

Joanne groaned, “Oh, god.”

Often, when a person, or someone that person cares for, is thought to be in danger, the person will plead with a deity for one’s safety. At that moment, Joanne was pleading with a deity for Jacob’s safety.

John’s shouting voice came over the phone, John saying, “Mrs. Walsh… Jacob’s paintings seem to have… they seem to have come alive.”

The use of ellipsis here are due to John’s having a hard time formulating how to tell Mrs. Walsh just what was happening at the school.

While John was saying this completely unbelievable statement, Joanne happened to be looking at a portion of Jacob’s mural where there was a blank spot. It almost looked like something had been painted on the mural and then ripped off. And the something looked like it could have been in the shape of some kind of large dog-like creature, and as unbelievable as Mr. Berkley’s statement was, Joanne made a connection in her brain. She knew that Mr. Berkley could very well be right. Joanne looked at the painted figure of David Grist in the mural, the portrait looking as if it could step right off of the wall.

Joanne said into the phone, “Mr. Berkley…”

But the phone suddenly went dead.

Joanne called into the phone, “Mr. Berkley? Mr. Berkley?” But there was no response from the other end.

Joanne turned off the phone and she plead to the deity again, repeating the phrase, “Oh god.” Then she looked at David Grist’s smeared face, making out his eyes beneath the streaked rainbow mask. Joanne said to the portrait, “David, what do I do?”

For a moment, as foolish as it may have seemed, Joanne actually expected the portrait to answer her. But it didn’t answer her. It was not really David Grist she was pleading with. It was a painting.

Joanne turned to leave the abandoned house, but something, intuition maybe, caused her to stop and look back over her shoulder at David Grist.

David Grist seemed to move.

Joanne’s eyes narrowed and she returned to the wall, standing again before the painted figure of David Grist.

Joanne said to the painting, “David, can you help him?”

The painting seemed to move again, the figure of David Grist shifting, the eyes beneath the streaked mask of paint seeming to focus onto Joanne. Joanne placed her hand on the mural, and she looked deep into the two eyes beneath the paint streaks.

The eyes blinked.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 44 — The Something in the Hallway

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Earworm: Part 40 — Hostage

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 39 — Dorm Life

Joel strolled into homeroom. Hope sat in her usual seat. Joel paused, noticing her drawn face, her eyes heavy with concern. Or was that fear? Joel smiled as he approached her, trying to spark a little life into her drooping body language, but his grin faded when Hope didn’t look up at him. She regarded her hands with the sad countenance of someone listening to a eulogy. Joel ducked into the seat behind her. “Hey,” he said, “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” she said without turning around.

“You okay?” He caressed a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. She flinched as if someone shouted, Look out. “Whoa,” Joel said, holding up his hands, “What’s the matter with you?” Hope turned in her seat to face Joel. She looked like a videotaped hostage pleading for ransom. “You all right?” Joel said, his voice a mixture of curiosity and concern.

“Just tired,” Hope looked down at the floor.

“You sick? Or… this isn’t because of those dreams still, is it?”

“I’m just not sleeping well.”

“You still dreaming all that weird stuff with your dad?”

“No, I… I’m just having nightmares.” Her tone was dreamy and defeated.

“Nightmares?” Curiosity buying out the concern in Joel’s voice. He reflected a moment and then said, “About what?” Hope shrugged. Joel leaned forward, “You’re all tense” he said, laying his hands on her shoulders. This time, Hope didn’t just flinch, she cringed, drawing in a gasp. Joel drew his hands away. “What’s the matter with you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Were they nightmares about your dad?” She shrugged. The bell rang. Joel saying, “C’mon, what were they about?”

“Nothing.” She gathered her books for first period.

“Nothing? You look pretty upset for it to be noth…”

Hope turned on him, saying, “Look, I just don’t want to talk about it now, is that all right with you?” She darted away with her books pressed to her chest.

“Okay.” Joel plodded after her.

They stopped in front of Ms. Bradford’s classroom. Joel peered into Hope’s face as if trying to decipher a map. “You gonna be okay?” he said. She looked at his sneakers and nodded. Joel said, “You sure you don’t want to…” Hope looked up at him with the expression of a do not enter sign. “Okay,” Joel said. He seemed searching for something to say, but when he came up with no comment, no sensitive sentiment, no word of parting encouragement, he shook his head and moped off down the hall.

Hope entered the classroom, her eyes springing at once to William Knight. William looked spooked for a moment, the same expression that always stole his face when first making eye contact with Hope. But then that expression fell away, replaced by a new expression. He regarded her like a barber assessing a butchered haircut. Hope rushed to her seat. She struggled against the urge to turn and look at him, but she stole several quick glances anyway. Luckily, the bell rang and the arriving Mrs. Bradford caught Hope’s attention.

The commencing class was a torturous progression of ambiguity. Hope performing the class’s tasks—opening her book on cue, handing in work, copying notes—but she performed them as if hypnotized, until mercifully the bell ending the period startled her out of a sleepy haze and she lifted from her seat to leave. Turning, she spotted William sitting in the back of the room. He stared at her. She stopped and glared at him. “What are you lookin at?” she sneered. She didn’t wait for a response as she stormed from the room.

At the end of last period, as the rest of the class filed out of the room, Mr. Grey said, “Ms. Ferretti, may I see you please.” Joel glanced back at Hope as he floated off on a tide of conversation with his buddies. Hope stood in front of Mr. Grey’s desk as he scribbled comments on an essay. He glanced over his reading glasses. “Would you care to sit down?” He nodded toward the chair beside his desk. Hope sat. Mr. Grey finished scribbling and looked up at her. “Hope, you look dreadful. And I refuse to be patronized by you telling me it’s nothin.” He said this last word in the moping manner known to teenagers. “I know my lectures are at times boring, but I don’t think I’ve ever bored someone to the brink of tears.”

Hope smiled. It was the first genuine smile she had all day, and the assurance that she could still smile lifted her spirits. But she didn’t know how to respond to Mr. Grey. Her dread was nothing she could articulate. “I’m fine,” she said. “I just don’t feel…” Well? Right? Right seemed the best word, but even that didn’t sum it up. “I’m just tired.”

“Is there something going on at home or at school that you would like to talk about? Maybe something with you and Joel?”

The mention of Joel’s name dropped her stomach like a gallows’ door. “No,” she said, shaking her head. There was nothing wrong with she and Joel. Or was there? “No. I just…” she shook her head again, “I’m just not sleeping well.”

“Does it have to do with the dreams you and Joel were talking about the other day?”

“Nnn—” she hesitated, but she changed the slow shake of her head to a reluctant nod, saying, “Yes.”

“Are you concerned because you’re dreaming about someone other than Joel?”

“I’m concerned because I am dreaming about Joel,” Hope muttered. But she suddenly wished she could retract the comment.

Mr. Grey cocked his head like a blind man hearing an alien sound. “Is everything all right between you and Joel?”

“Yes,” Hope said in a soft voice.

“Then why the concern over dreams about him?”

Hope shrugged, “I’ve just been having nightmares lately.”

“About Joel?”

Hope didn’t want to answer. She didn’t want to admit that for some reason her boyfriend gave her the willies. But she nodded, yes.

Mr. Grey leaned forward, eyes piercing, his voice a distant roll of thunder, “Hope, is everything all right”—these words took on a dire resonance—“between you and Joel?” Hope looked down at the books in her lap. She nodded. “I think it important to know if ill treatment has befallen one of my star pupils,” Mr. Grey said. “So you’re telling me everything is fine?”

“Yes. Joel’s great.” She held his gaze long enough to assure him. Mr. Grey leaned back in his chair. “I just…” Hope paused, “I keep having these horrible dreams. I mean, they haven’t always been horrible, but lately they have been. And they involve Joel, but I don’t know why.” She looked down again. “I just can’t make any sense of it. I mean, what do dreams even mean anyway?” She looked at her teacher. “Do you know?”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” he said. “Dreams are the most abstract of abstractions. They are defectors from the rooms of our souls. They’re beyond science. They’re beyond the imaginations of the masters of art and thought. But as I’ve told you, they are your dreams, you are in control of them.”

Hope nodded, validated by the sincere assurance of her teacher. Yet she felt foolish. Mr. Grey told her what she already knew: her dreams were only dreams, and in his eloquent way, he alluded to how foolish it was to allow something so trivial to shatter her emotional welfare. She felt ashamed. Mr. Grey said, “Does that make you feel better?”

“Yes.”

“Very well,” he said, “In the future, if you need to talk, please don’t wait for me to initiate the meeting.”

“Okay.” Hope stood and headed for the door. She stopped and turned to her teacher. “Thank you, Mr. Grey.”

“You’re welcome. Oh, and Hope, pleasant dreams.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 41 — Seeds of Doubt

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With Drawn: Part 42 — Take Charge

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 41 — Unpleasant Things

John Berkley regarded the students that were sitting on the floor in the corner of the art room. Several of the students sitting on the floor were weeping quietly. Screams and crashes could still be heard in the distance.

There came a sudden pounding on the art room door.

The children gasped, some cried harder. Mr. Berkley’s heart dropped, remembering the zombies that were at the door earlier.

Then there came a child’s voice calling from the other side of the door. The voice calling, “Oh god, let me in. Please let me in.”

For a moment, John Berkley was unsure how to react to the child’s pleading. He remembered the principal’s warning to not open the door for anyone, but he also couldn’t leave a screaming child out there with giant dogs and zombies dressed in baseball uniforms, and so, John strode over to the door, unlocked it, and pulled the pleading student into the room.

The student’s name was Drew Broderick, and Drew was now screaming, “There’s monsters everywhere. They’re everywhere.”

Several of the students in the art room began weeping louder. John said to the students, “It’s okay. You’re safe.” John then said to Drew, “Go have a seat on the floor with the others.”

Drew screamed, “But they’re everywhere.”

John said to Drew, “But they’re not in here. So you’re safe now. You need to go and sit with the other students.”

Drew did what he was told, sitting on the floor, looking wide-eyed at the students seated around him.

John walked to his desk. He opened the desk drawer, taking out an address book and his cell phone, and then he returned to the group of students sitting on the floor. He pointed at Jamie Bent, and he said, “Jamie, take the key and lock the door behind me.”

Mr. Berkley held the key toward Jamie.

Jamie was a petite girl with glasses and bobbed blond hair. And, although she was very intelligent, she looked at Mr. Berkley as if she did not understand a word he’d said.

When Mr. Berkley waved the key in the air and said, “Jamie, the key,” Jamie stood up and took the key. John said to Jamie, “You’re in charge while I’m gone.”

He turned to the group of students and said, “Did you hear that? I’ve put Jamie in charge. I trust her to make the right decisions and you’re to follow her directions.”

This wasn’t a problem because the rest of the students knew that Jamie Bent was the smartest student among them, as well.

John said to the students, “You are all to stay exactly where you are. And do not open the door for anyone. Not even me. Do you understand?”

The students and Jamie nodded.

John told Jamie, “The signal for an all clear is three rings of the school bell. Only open the door, even to the police, after you hear that signal. Do you understand?”

Jamie nodded, and then John Berkley headed out the classroom door.

Jamie locked the door behind him.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 43 — Pleas for Help

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Earworm: Part 39 — Dorm Life

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 38 — Trilogy

Bobbi Jacobs was a light sleeper. Back home, in Colorado, crickets kept her from falling asleep at night. And then birds woke her in the morning. People said she’d get used to dorm life. They said that the constant murmur of sounds—the distant blaring of radios, the mumbling of televisions, the thumps and bumps of people dropping from top bunks, the ghostly voices and drifting laughter—would blend like the soft, incessant patter of raindrops. But raindrops woke her too. When her friends back home asked why in the world she decided to transfer to a school dubbed “Zoo-Mass,” she told them she’d just get earplugs. But earplugs only stifled the undercutting white noise wafting from distant rooms. The noises of Bobbi’s roommate were another story.

It wasn’t that her roommate partied or listened to music at all hours, fact was, she always seemed to be sleeping. She was the first person Bobbi met that set an alarm clock, not to wake herself up, but to tell her when to go to sleep. By Zoo-Mass standards, Bobbi’s roommate was pretty tame—although, word around campus was that she was a “wild one” in the past.

It was the noises her roommate made while sleeping that drove Bobbi nuts. And it wasn’t just the noises that freaked her out, it was the way her roommate writhed in the dark like an overturned insect trying to right itself, her moaning articulating either great suffering, or great ecstasy. Bobbi figured it was the latter. Bobbi couldn’t believe it. This chick seemed to get more action asleep than Bobbi did awake. No wonder she slept so much. Bobbi also feared what their neighbors must think. After all, there was never a man sneaking in or out of their room. How long before the two girls were labeled as dykes?

Bobbi heard her roommate’s moans, and she glanced over to see her roommate’s body squirming in the partial light of the full moon that shone in through the room’s windows. “Jesus,” Bobbi said, testing that her earplugs were still in her ears. “Hey,” she called in a whispered plea—a little louder than she intended, due to the earplugs. “Hey, wake up. Hey, you’re so loud.” Bobbi fished out one of her gorilla-foot slippers from under her bed and heaved it across the room, pelting her roommate. “Hey,” Bobbi called. “Hey, Starling, shut up.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 40 — Hostage

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Earworm: Part 38 — Trilogy

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 37 — Meet the Parent

Grave markers broke from the earth like stone crops. Lives and deaths recorded on stern, unforgiving faces. Hope and Joel didn’t speak as they walked through Saint Sebastian’s Cemetery, strolling along the narrow paths flanked by the well-tilled garden of granite and marble. Joel’s eyes darted from stone to stone, his head craning to read the information chiseled on each. Births, deaths, beloved wives, beloved husbands, the sad markers of children accompanied by tattered, stuffed bears and stone angels. Hope slipped her hand into Joel’s hand and squeezed. She felt so distant lately, not just from Joel, but from herself, her thoughts preoccupied with the sadness unearthed—as if by grave robbers—by her dreams. Images of her dreams held her mind hostage throughout the day, and then chased her into slumber. And the name

William Knight

turned endlessly in her mind. What was happening to her? Lately, the threads of her thoughts twisted into tangled chords, crisscrossing like the spindles of an insane spider’s web. And all the strands led back to one thing, William Knight. Hope snapped from her thoughts, as she and Joel came to the polished gravestone of: Richard L. Ferretti / Beloved husband and father / We love you. She bowed her head, squeezing Joel’s hand again. “Hi, Daddy,” she said, imagining his voice—recently resurrected in her dreaming mind—saying, Hello, My Hope. “I miss you,” Hope told the gravestone.

Joel draped his arm across her back. Hope put her head on his shoulder. His presence, his touch, his strong grip on her shoulder comforted her. “Man,” Joel said in a matter-of-fact tone, “I’m so glad I killed him.”

Hope pulled from his arm, shock prohibiting her from speaking.

Joel glanced at her. “What?” he said. “I don’t mean any disrespect. I’m just saying I’m glad I slit the dumb fuck’s throat.” He burst into laughter. “You should see your face.”

Hope couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t even cry.

Joel regarded her for a moment and then said, “Oh, c’mon, don’t be mad, I’m just kidding.” He started laughing again, “But, really, you should see your face.”

Hope felt like throwing up. She felt like running away. She felt like smashing Joel in his laughing face. But shock robbed her of the ability to respond.

“Here, watch this,” Joel said, steadying Hope like a person preparing someone for a surprise. He leapt onto the cemetery plot in front of Richard L. Ferretti’s tombstone, kicking his feet, his hands on his hips, his smiling head bobbing back and forth. “I’m not sure if this is a jig, but it’s gotta be close. Oh, wait,” he held up his finger again. “How about this?” He shot into a pose, one finger pointing to the sky, the other hand on his tilted hip. “Ah-ah-ah-ah, I’m stayin alive, I’m stayin alive…” he sang in his best Bee Gee’s voice. “Hey,” he called over his shoulder to the gravestone, “no pun intended there, pal.” He let out a knee-slapping laugh. “Oh, man, I kill me,” he called over his shoulder. “Again, no pun intended.” He turned his back to Hope. “Whew, man, I gotta take a leak.”

“Oh, God,” Hope covered her mouth as Joel painted the headstone in urine.

Joel rocked back and forth, urine splashing the entire headstone’s surface. “Don’t wanna miss a spot,” he said, finishing by jumping up and down. “Leave no drops undropped,” he said, turning to face her and zipping his fly. He smiled his charming smile, looking quite refreshed, “Ah, much better.”

The soil broke open at Joel’s feet and like a springing Jack-in-the-box, an eyeless, gray corpse rose from the earth. It wrapped its hand around Joel’s neck and lifted him from the ground. Hope screamed, recognizing the decaying remains of her father. Tattered clothing clung to the corpse along with the stench of death. Its teeth grimaced beneath thin, deteriorating lips, and its moldy neck still gaped where Joel slashed it open in a prior dream. Hope’s hand fell from her mouth and—again, as if instinctively—she gripped the tiny moon jewel hanging upon her breast. “This is a dream,” she said as the ground began shaking and jostling beneath her, the turf splitting. Rotting bodies climbed from the soil, some of the corpses still fresh and bloody, others black and bloated. A skeletal hand sprung from an opened fissure, clenching Hope’s ankle. “Leave me alone,” she screeched, launching from her bed, snapping on the lamp, the light banishing the dark into corners and under the door, out the window and into the night. She searched her bedroom with darting eyes.

“Hope, are you all right?” Hope’s mother called, tapping on the bedroom door.

“Yeah,” she said in a shaky voice, “I’m fine. I just had a nightmare.”

“Again?”

“Uh-huh,” Hope said, as if it was no big deal. But she realized she’d screamed Leave me alone upon waking—the remnants of the call still hanging in the air—and it must have turned her mother’s blood to ice water.

“You going to be okay?” her mother said. Her mother’s voice seeming to shiver.

I hope so. “Yes.”

“You sure?”

No, not sure. “I’m fine, thanks,” she said, forcing the defeat from her voice.

“Okay then, goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Hope said, surveying her bedroom. At that moment, her lamp-lit room felt like the only protective refuge in the cosmos of night. She regarded that refuge with suspicion, as if, at any moment, it was going to break apart like the walls of a soap bubble and deliver her back into horror. The clock read: 3:02am. A few more hours to sunrise. Only a dream, she assured herself. But the darkness outside her bubble forced its way into her mind, and she couldn’t keep her thoughts from recalling the last three nights of nightmares. The first being Joel slashing her father’s throat. The third, Joel’s desecration of her father’s grave. But it was the middle dream of this horror trilogy that frightened her the most.

In this middle dream, Hope and Joel stood at Joel’s locker. The school was oddly deserted and darkening as the afternoon light quickly faded. Joel ducked his head into his locker. Hope leaned against the other lockers, her books pinned to her breast. Something rolled against her chest, a tiny, tingling sphere, but before she looked down to inspect it, Joel said, “Ah, here it is.” His face reappeared from behind the metal door. He held up the carving knife he’d used on Hope’s father the night prior. “You really wanna see your dad that badly?” Joel said to her, “Well, Babe, I can help.” He grabbed her arm, but she broke from his grip and took off through the corridor. She made it to the side doors, trying to push them open, but they were locked, or stuck, or welded shut—obviously there being no fire codes in dreams. Hope took off through the halls, and with each corner she darted around, through each corridor she sprinted, she heard Joel’s footfalls and crazed laughter. She darted around the corner of one hall and into another. She was in Mr. Grey’s hallway, and she could see a fluorescent glow spilling from his classroom. She ran down the hall and into the room. Mr. Grey was seated behind his desk. His usually pristine white shirt was stained red with blood, and his wise eyes were now lifeless and staring at the ceiling.

“Oh no, Mr. Grey,” Hope whispered.

She then turned to see Joel stopping short in the room’s doorway, his sneakers squealing. Joel’s eyes focused on Hope as she awoke with a screech.

She now nestled into her covers, refusing to click off the light and bursting her bubble of safety. And she spent the remainder of the night watching the clock’s refusal to crawl forward.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 39 — Dorm Life

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With Drawn: Part 41 — Unpleasant Things

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 40 — Lockdown

In room 102 of the Mystic Island Middle School, the teacher and students had followed the lockdown procedures. The teacher had locked the door and turned off the classroom’s lights, and he and the students were hunkered down on the floor in the far corner of the room. The teacher was Phil Abbott. Mr. Abbott was an English teacher. He was tall and thin and bald. He was an impotent looking man, which is to say that he looked both ineffective and like a flaccid penis.

Mr. Abbott stood in the corner of the room with his students seated at his feet. Mr. Abbott tried standing up straight and puffing out his chest to somehow make it look like he was in control of the situation, but he had no more control over the situation than he had control over the Earth’s rotation.

Teacher and students sat in the darkened room, and they could hear the distant crashes and screams of the terror outside their room’s locked door. And because the room was darkened, and the lights were on in the hallway, the teacher and students could see the band of light fringing the bottom of the classroom door. They were also able to see something now outside the door breaking that band of light with its shadow.

There was definitely something outside the classroom. Something large. And something, from the sound of it, sniffing at the crack where the bottom of the door almost met the floor. A low growl came from outside the room.

The students and Mr. Abbott drew in a collective breath.

The something scratched on the outside of the door.

The students and Mr. Abbott would have drawn in another collective breath had they ever exhaled the first breath. But their breaths remained locked in their chests.

There was another scratching on the door, and then a rapid, firm knock on the door.

The students and teacher looked at one another. They let out their collective breath. They had a brief sense of relief, thinking that the knock signaled help. Maybe the sniffing was a police dog and the knocking was a police officer.

But it was Jacob Grist’s voice that called through the door. Jacob calling, “Hello? Mr. Abbott? I know you’re in there.”

The students looked at Mr. Abbott.

Mr. Abbott stared at the door. His chest had since deflated and he looked more flaccid than ever.

Jacob called through the door again, “Mr. Abbott, I’m out here with some very unsavory things. Things that could be unpleasant to meet. You were always pretty nice to me, Mr. Abbott, I don’t want to have to send these things in there.”

Mr. Abbott swallowed hard.

Jacob called from the other side of the door, “All I want is Tommy Rogers. I know he’s in there.”

The students and Mr. Abbott turned their heads toward Tommy Rogers, who was sitting on the floor among the other students. They all stared at Tommy. Tommy stared back at Mr. Abbott and the other students.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 42 — Take Charge

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With Drawn: Part 40 — Lockdown

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 39 — Never Cry Wolf

In the Mystic Island Middle School art room, John Berkley was moving about the tables, helping students with their art projects.

A scream came from the hallway.

John Berkley looked up at the open classroom door. He saw three students running down the hallway past the classroom. “Hey…” John called as he started toward the door to scold the students for running.

Running was against the rules in the school. Unless, of course, the students were running from something that meant them harm, which is what these students were doing.

John saw what looked like a very large dog streak past the open door. “What in the…” John said, but his statement was interrupted when the principal’s voice came over the loud speakers.

The principal’s voice said: “Attention, students and staff. We are now in lockdown. Please follow lockdown procedures…” it then sounded as if the principal was talking to someone else in the office, the principal saying away from the microphone, “There’s a what?” The principal then spoke into the microphone again, his voice booming over the loudspeakers, “You are to lock your classroom doors and, no matter what, you are not to open your doors. I repeat, do not…” The principal’s voice was away from the microphone again as he spoke to someone in the office, “It’s here? Now?” Then the principal was back on the microphone, screaming, “Oh my god. Run for your lives…” Then silence.

The students in John’s classroom looked at John. They were silent and frozen. Their brains could not quite work out if what they heard was real or not, or if it was a joke, or an act, or some strange drill. John was silent and frozen for a moment, too. He also was trying to make sense of the announcement.

But then John snapped from his daze and said, “Okay, you all need to calmly move to the far end of the room and sit quietly on the floor.”

This was the lockdown procedure, and the students did it silently. Usually, during a lockdown drill, the students would smirk and snicker and roll their eyes and not take it very seriously. But this time, aside from a few students beginning to cry, they did it silently. In that silence, distant screaming and sounds of general mayhem could be heard.

John Berkley darted to his desk. He grabbed the key to the classroom and then he darted for the door. Locking the classroom door was also part of the lockdown procedures. And as John went to perform this act, he looked over his shoulder and told the students, “Just sit quietly, everything will be…”

John was going to say that everything was going to be fine. But he saw a sudden change in expression come over all the students’ faces that told him that all was not fine. All the students’ eyes got really wide and their mouths looked like they were saying the word, oh. This was happening because the students saw something that John, not facing the door, could not see. John realized before he even turned back toward the hallway, that there was something in the doorway waiting for him.

John slowly turned toward the doorway to see what looked like a zombie dressed in a baseball uniform. The thing held a baseball bat, and the thing’s droopy, undead eyes fell onto John. The zombie groaned, drool falling from its lips, and it raised the baseball bat as if to strike down John Berkley.

But another zombie dressed in a baseball uniform reached out and stayed the bat. This second zombie waived its finger at the first zombie in a no-no gesture. Then the two zombies walked off down the hallway.

John watched the zombies go. His jaw was slack. His whole body felt slack. In fact, the way he looked off dumbly down the hall, John Berkley almost had the same vacant expression on his face as the zombies had on their faces. But then the comprehension returned to his eyes as the shock wore off, and John slammed the classroom door shut, locking it with the key.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 41 — Unpleasant Things

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Earworm: Part 37 — Meet the Parent

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 36 — Stanley’s Story

William Knight

There was a flash of the boy from her math class, a reflexive action, something Hope didn’t even notice anymore, just a fleeting feeling like a pause in a conversation, and then Hope sat at her dining room table. Her father sat across from her. Her father no longer the monster from her dream on the cliff’s edge. Instead, he was the same handsome, loving man from her memories. But like a seeping oil slick announcing a sunken ship, the memories of that horrible dream resurfaced, and Hope looked at her father with apprehension. “Daddy?” she said in the low, soft voice a child might use to check if her parents are awake.

“Yes, My Hope, it’s Daddy,” her father said.

“But… What about…”

“The other night?” her father finished for her.

“You were…” Hope choked on the words.

“Not myself. But I’m back now. And I’ll never leave you again. I intend to stay here with you. Like the moon and the stars around your neck, William can give you the greatest treasures.” Hope glanced down at the jewel hanging around her neck as the house’s doorbell dinged. “That must be Joel,” Hope’s father said.

“Joel?” Hope said, looking at her father.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting him. Come on in, Joel,” her father called.

“But what about the other night?” Hope asked her father.

The house’s front door opened and closed. Footsteps approached the dining room from the front hall.

“I told you,” her father said, “that wasn’t really me. You should know that.”

Hope’s hand went to her moon jewel again. She rolled it in her fingers, feeling its smooth, glass texture, its energy buzzing like an electric charge. She let the bauble fall to her breast. “Yes. I guess I know that now,” she said to her father.

Joel strolled into the dining room. Hope stood to greet him. Joel took Hope’s hands and, with a wink, kissed her on the cheek. “How’s it goin, babe?” he said in an arrogant tone.

“Good,” she said, cocking her head. “Babe?”

Hope’s father stood from the table. “You must be Joel,” he said with a smile.

“Hey,” Joel said to the man in a manner reminiscent of the Fonz. Joel looked at Hope’s father’s hand held out to be shaken. “And you must be dead,” Joel said.

Hope’s father gasped in a desperate intake of air, his neck opening with a crimson streak. Thick, red liquid gushing from the gash, pouring down his chest, spilling and splashing on the hardwood floor. His hands went to his throat, blood oozing through his fingers like water over the edge of a clogged sink. He made gurgling, choked gasps for breath.       Hope wanted to help her father, but she was frozen. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t make a sound. She looked at Joel. He wore a wide—comically wide—smile, and he held a large—comically large—carving knife, its silver blade painted crimson.

“Joel, what have you done?” Hope gasped, barely able to force sound through her numb vocal chords. She grabbed Joel’s arm, but he shook her off, dropping the knife and pushing her father into the china cabinet. The man smashed into the glass doors, shattering the panes, shards of glass raining down on his slumping body.

Joel turned toward Hope and raised his shoulders in a blasé shrug. “Well, so much for Daddy being back,” he said.

Hope ran to her father’s side. Blood bubbles formed in his mouth, exploding in crimson mist. She heaved up his shoulders, trying to help him to his feet. “Please. Get up, Daddy, get up.”

Joel called in a high, mocking voice, “Oh please, Daddy. Daddy get up.”

Hope’s father climbed to his feet, swaying and wheezing, his eyes falling onto Joel. He took Joel by the neck and lifted him into the air. Joel regarded the grim determination of the man’s gritted teeth—the gaping crevasse in the man’s throat still hiccupping spurts of blood—and Joel burst into laughter again. Hope’s father squeezed his hand like a tentacle around prey. Joel’s neck crackling with the sound of his crushing windpipe, his eyes bulging in expanding balloons, his face changing hues like a mood ring—rouge to violet to plum—until, with a sharp, popping report, Joel’s eyeballs burst, spraying scarlet drops that freckled Hope’s face. Air rushed from the eye sockets with a Whoopee Cushion sound as Joel’s body deflated. Her father tossed aside Joel’s flat, limp body. It struck the wall and slid into a heap on the floor. Her father then turned to face Hope, the gash in his neck gaping like a grin. He walked toward her, a soft gurgling rising from his throat. “See what you’ve done, Hope?” he said, his voice wet and heavy.

“No.” Hope shook her head, tears streaking down her cheeks. “I want to wake up. I don’t want to be here.”

“Hope,” her father said, his voice sopping, “Why did you bring Joel here?” Her father reached for her, blood spurting from his gaping wound, his face a white sheet. “Why, Hope? Why did you do this?” He took her shoulders and pulled her toward him, his gurgling breath escaping through the gash in his throat. And Hope tore from her bed’s sheets, sitting upright, her choked squeal echoing in the room’s silence, her heart pounding in her chest like someone on a coffin’s lid. She felt violated, mentally raped, engulfed in a mixture of sadness, disgust, fear. She snapped on the lamp beside her bed. The dark cowered into the room’s corners.

There was a soft, muffled tap on her door. She flinched, clutching her heart. The moon jewel absent from her breast. “Hope?” her mother whispered through the door.

“Yeah?”

“You okay?”

“Uh-huh.” She looked around her room just to be sure. “Had a bad dream.”

“You gonna be all right?”

“Uh-huh. Thanks.”

“Good night, then.”

“Night,” Hope said.

Her eyes fell upon the poster of her castle. She shuddered, fear hanging like curtains over the windows of thought. There was a sense of something darker in the world, something seemingly watching from shadows. The frightened little girl in her urged that she get up and look out her bedroom window, check for supernatural beings gazing in through glass panes. A vampire maybe, or aliens with big heads and giant, black eyes. But the adult in her knew that getting up to look out that window was one step above needing a nightlight. Besides, what if she drew back the curtains and did find the face of a soulless being with dead eyes, rotting flesh, and viper teeth, whispering, Hope, let me in, I need blood?

A flash of her father—throat cut, skin colorless, eyes dying—stole into her mind. She shook it off with another shiver. It was just a dream. And with a final inventory of her room, she shut off her lamp, pulling her blankets over her trembling body.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 38 — Trilogy

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With Drawn: Part 39 — Never Cry Wolf

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 38 — Home of the Assholes

Bobby McGinn was a student in Jacob’s grade at the Mystic Island Middle School. Bobby was tall and spindly, looking like he could be easily broken. This frailty made him prone to injuries, although many said that he was a hypochondriac. This means that people thought he was making up the injuries, or that his brain was tricking his body into thinking that he had injuries. This is why, when Ms. Dell was passing out the math test they were going to take that day, she was not surprised when Bobby raised his hand.

Ms. Dell said, in a tone that was very much like a groan, “What is it, Bobby?”

Bobby said, “Um, Ms. Dell, I can’t take the test today. I didn’t get the chance to study last night. My grandmother was sick. I had to spend most of the night in the hospital waiting room.”

Many people suspected that Bobby’s hypochondria extended to invented injuries and sickness for his family as well.

Ms. Dell’s response to Bobby was in a tone that sounded like she was being sympathetic to his plight, but she was, in fact, being sarcastic. She said to Bobby, “Gee, it sounds like your family is having a lot of bad luck lately, Bobby. Wasn’t it your brother breaking his leg the night before the last test?”

Ms. Dell used this sarcastic tone because she did not believe Bobby was being truthful, and she wanted him, and all the other students, to know that she knew he was a liar.

But it turns out that Bobby’s grandmother really was sick with pneumonia, and his brother really did have a broken leg.

Bobby said, “But I really was at the hospital last night.”

Ms. Dell said, “Now, Bobby, have you ever heard the story of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf?’”

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ is a children’s story about a boy that keeps telling people that there is a wolf coming to their village. This causes all the people living in the village to panic and run about. But it turns out that there is no wolf, the boy made the whole thing up. The boy found this prank he played on the villagers to be hilarious because he loved watching the people run around all crazed and frightened. Anyway, the boy pulls the prank so many times that when a real wolf does show up to the village, and the boy cries for help, no one believes him, and the wolf eats him up, yum, yum. The story is to illustrate that liars get what is coming to them. Yum, yum.

Asking someone if they know the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a polite way of calling a person a liar.

So when Ms. Dell asked Bobby McGinn if he knew the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” she considered the conversation about Bobby’s sick grandmother to be over, and Ms. Dell continued to pass out the math test.

While Ms. Dell was placing Bobby’s test on his desk, Bobby glanced out the classroom door. He was the only student in the back row, and he had the only vantage point to see the hallway outside the room. What Bobby saw out in the hallway was what looked like a very large wolf staring at Ms. Dell. Ms. Dell did not see this because her back was to the wolf. The wolf’s snout curled from its long fangs, saliva dripping from its lips, and Bobby shakily raised his hand, calling, “Um… Ms. Dell?”

Ms. Dell groaned again, saying in her sarcastic tone, “What is it now, Bobby? Did your grandfather break a hip?”

Actually, Bobby’s grandfather had recently broken a hip, but that wasn’t what Bobby was raising his hand about. He was actually raising his hand because there was a large wolf eyeing Ms. Dell like a juicy T-bone steak.

Bobby said to his teacher, “Never mind.”

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 40 — Lockdown

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