Earworm: Part 44 — That’s It

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 43 — The Shot Heard Round the Gym

Every time Hope moved, the crinkling of the paper covering on the examining table sounded like bursts of electricity. Why was Hope on an examining table? Because her mother said: That’s it. And any time Hope’s mother said that’s it, it really was it.

After Hope had calmed down the night before, finally realizing she wasn’t being burned alive, she looked into her mother’s eyes like the subject of intense shock-treatment, and her mother, reading the surrender in those eyes, immediately said, “That’s it. Tomorrow, you’re going to the doctor.” Now Hope feared that shock treatments might just be what she was in for. As soon as they diagnosed her as crazy, it would be a steady dose of anti-psychotic drugs and lobotomizing electric jolts. Because there were only two possible outcomes to this doctor’s visit, and the two sides of Hope’s brain argued over which would occur. Hope’s rational side scolded her paranoia. You wanna know how this doctor’s visit will turn out? I’ll tell you. First, the doctor will come in, and even though she’s your mom’s friend, and has known you for most of your life, she will greet you with these patronizing words: So, Hope, I hear you’re having nightmares. To which, you answer, yes. Then she will say, Well, there’s nothing I can do for that, so why don’tcha just call if there’s any real problem. Then the doctor will vanish in a blur of her white coat, and you can scurry off the table—the sounds of the crinkling paper sounding much like a mad scientist’s lab in an old horror movie.

Will the electric-shock therapy sound like that? asked Hope’s irrational side.

No, countered her rational side, it is how it will sound when you get off the examining table, and that will be exactly one minute after Dr. Murray first enters the room.

Hope couldn’t fault her mother for insisting on this doctor’s visit. After seeing the look of surrender in her daughter’s eyes, the panic button would be pressed in any parent. Her motherly instincts had laid down an executive order, and nothing, not even intervention from the President himself, could veto that decision. It was final. It was it.

Dr. Murray, a statuesque woman with dark hair and sharp eyes, burst into the room as if ducking out of a downpour. Hope jerked, erupting the paper’s crinkling, wondering why it always seemed like doctors were bursting in and out of rooms.

“So, Hope,” the doctor said “I hear you’re having nightmares.”

“Uh-huh.” Hope regarded the doctor with suspicion, unsure of just what kind of physical prodding she was in for.

Dr. Murray sat on a chrome stool and, peering over a manila folder, said, “Do you want to tell me about them?”

“Like, what are they about?” Hope said with that suspicion in her voice.

“Sure,” the doctor said. “What are they like?”

Hope glanced at the chrome and glass cabinets and the jars filled with cotton balls, tongue depressors, bandages. “I don’t know,” Hope said, “They’re scary, I guess.”

“Scary, how?”

“I don’t know.” Hope shrugged. “Scary like nightmares are scary.”

“All right,” Dr. Murray said, nodding. “Your mom said that last night was the fourth night in a row that you woke up frightened—very frightened—and that you were pretty overwhelmed by what you experienced.”


“So, what happened?”

“I had a really scary dream.”

“About what?”

“That someone was trying to burn me alive.”

“That is scary. So how about the other dreams?”

“I don’t know. I keep dreaming that my boyfriend is trying to…” Hope stopped, realizing she’d said too much, and that now, like with Mr. Grey, red flags were rising.

“Trying to…” Dr. Murray prompted her to continue.

“I don’t know.”

“Trying to hurt you?”

“Well… kind of.”

“Is your boyfriend abusive?”


“How is your relationship with him?”

“He’s great. We get along fine.”

The doctor snapped the folder shut and stood, plugging her ears with the stethoscope hanging around her neck. “Have you been under any extraneous stress lately?”

“Extraneous stress?”

“You know, anything especially weighing on your mind?”


Dr. Murray placed the stethoscope on strategic points of Hope’s back. “Breathe deep,” the doctor said. Hope did. “Again,” the doctor said. Hope did again. “Not stressed out over school or anything?”

“No, not really.”

“Breathe. Good. And there’s no stress in you and your boyfriend’s relationship?”


“You sure? Not physically or mentally abusive?”


The stethoscope dropped against the doctor’s abdomen. It reminded Hope of the moon necklace, and if the doctor was taking Hope’s blood pressure at that moment, there would have been a sharp spike. Hope considered telling the doctor about all the dreams, but that sense of intimidation given off by doctors kept her responses to simple utterances. Dr. Murray took a wand-like instrument hanging on the wall and inspected Hope’s pupils. She peered through a small window lit by a tiny bulb. “Taking any medications?”


“Drugs? Alcohol?”

“I occasionally drink. You know, at a party or something.”

“No binge-drinking?”

“No,” Hope said, shaking her head.

The doctor traded the wand for another instrument with a funnel on the end of it. She peered into Hope’s ears. “No hallucinogens?”


The doctor returned the instrument to the wall. “Are you sleepwalking at all?”

“Sleepwalking? No.”

“Any talking in your sleep?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Any history of night terrors?”


“You know, really intense nightmares?”

“Not before now.”

“Not as a child?”


“So this is all recent.”

“Besides an occasional nightmare about failing a test or something—yeah, this is just recent. But these dreams are different.”

“Different, how?” The doctor looked a little too interested for Hope’s liking.         “They’re just… more intense.”

“Intense? Like how?”

“They just… seem real, like, really detailed. And they seem to follow some kind of progression.”


“They pick up where the last one left off. And they have, like, characters.”


“Yeah. Like my boyfriend is a character, and this new kid from my class is another character, and my father…”

“Your father?”

“Yeah,” Hope said. The interest of the doctor’s expression made Hope feel as if she was naked in a crowded room.

“Has anything happened lately to trigger thoughts of your dad?”


“Everything’s all right at home?”


“Have you been sleeping all right, otherwise? No insomnia? No over-fatigue?”

“I’m tired, but I think it’s because I can’t get back to sleep after the dreams.”

“Anything else?” the doctor said. “Not hearing voices or anything, right?”

Hold on. Did she just ask if I’m hearing voices? Hope’s belly rolled out of her abdomen and plopped onto the floor. She shifted on the table’s paper, the sound exploding with unnaturally loud crinkles and crackles. “Voices?” Hope said.

“Yeah,” the doctor shrugged, brushing off the question as if it was something a doctor’s handbook told her she was supposed to ask. I don’t actually think you’re crazy, Hope, but hey, gotta ask these questions, cause frankly, it’s what the symptoms suggest. “You know, are you feeling all right mentally?”

“Uh-huh,” Hope spat out the response on desert-dry lips.

“I mean, you’re definitely asleep right, when these dreams happen? You aren’t having hallucinations or anything, right?” Dr. Murray said with another dismissive, don’t worry, shrug.


Yeah, you know, Hope, this is all formality, she doesn’t really think you’re crazy, said Rational Hope.

Of course she thinks you’re crazy, why else would she ask this? said Irrational Hope.

Hope didn’t want to be there anymore. The fact was, she did hear voices—William’s calling to her each night—and she did hallucinate—the shimmering of Samantha Stuart’s binder in English class, the ghostly feeling of the moon jewel upon waking. “Hallucinations?” The word was like a foreign language.

“Yeah, you know, not seeing things that aren’t real when you’re awake, right?”

How about seeing things that are real while I’m asleep, isn’t that the issue here?

They’re just dreams. These questions are formality.

What about the moon jewel in English class?

Quiet, you sound like a crazy person.

“No,” Hope sputtered from her dry mouth. She attempted a reassuring shrug of her own—just to show she understood these questions were formality, and, yes, they could move on with the examination.

“Well, Hope,” Dr. Murray said, “frankly, I don’t know what could be causing these dreams. People don’t usually develop night terrors at your age. They generally begin in young children. You tell me you’re feeling fine emotionally, all’s well at home and in school, you’re not taking medications or drugs… In the past, doctors would prescribe something to help you sleep soundly through the night, hoping the bad dreams just went away.” Hope nodded, but she felt as if she was somewhere far-off controlling her body via remote control. The doctor saying, “But now, with sleep labs and sleep studies…” The doctor shrugged. “I think we should get you into a sleep lab and find out what’s causing these dreams, see what’s going on neurologically in there,” Dr. Murray pointed to Hope’s forehead. Hope had the sinking realization that the doctor had just suggested that Hope had a neurological disorder. Hope was going to be poked and prodded by “head doctors.” And, of course, that is just a way station, one short step to the cuckoo’s nest. She wanted to say, Oops, I was just kidding, let’s forget I said anything, okay? Because this was real, seemingly as unreally real as… well, as a dream. “Now, it’s tough to get into a lab right away, there’s a waiting-list, so for the time being, you’ll have to endure these dreams. Just be sure you’re not sleepwalking, putting yourself or anyone else in danger”—Danger?—“and try to think of good dreams.” The doctor said this with an almost painful grin, as if saying she wished she could do more, but she didn’t deal with crazy people.

Hope wanted to blurt out, Dr. Murray, can someone control your dreams?—she recalled William’s face beyond the rising flicker of heat, her saying to him, It’s you. You’re behind the nightmares—but asking that question would be the craziest thing Hope could do at that moment—apart from maybe climbing on the examining table to doing the Funky Chicken. Of course no one can control someone else’s dreams. And Hope could imagine the doctor’s response if she did ask that question. The doctor laughing and saying, Wow, Hope, you really are crazy.

The doctor stood. “I’ll give your mom the information about the lab.” Lab? The word conjured images of mice running mazes and electrodes spewing from patients’ heads. “It was good to see you, Hope,” Dr. Murray said. She then burst from the room as if avoiding another downpour—or as if running from a lunatic.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 45 — Just Crazy After All These Years

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With Drawn: Part 47 — Out of the Maze

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 46 — A Little Help

In the hallway outside of room 102, Jacob Grist was tattooing Tommy Rogers’s skin with a black magic marker, drawing snakes and insects and other creepy crawly creatures across Tommy Rogers’s torso and arms.

Jacob stepped back from Tommy, and Jacob stared at the snakes and insects and creepy crawly creatures in his focused-unfocused way. The figures drawn onto Tommy’s skin began to move, the figures scurrying about on Tommy’s body, the snakes and creatures gnashing at Tommy’s skin.

John Berkley, still running the halls and searching for Jacob, and still with Officer Raymond on his tail, turned a corner into the hallway of room 102. John stopped running and he stared at the sight that was before him. He saw a writhing, screaming Tommy Rogers in the grip of a giant gorilla, he saw a wolf-like creature, and he saw Jacob.

Officer Raymond turned the corner into the hallway, stopping beside John Berkley, the police officer staring at the sights before him with the same disbelieving expression on his face that the art teacher had.

The wolf-like creature standing at Jacob’s side turned on John and Officer Raymond, and it began to growl as it bared its teeth.

At first, Officer Raymond was too shocked to move. The officer was shocked to see some kid in the grip of a gorilla, this kid screaming with moving tattoos seeming to bite at his skin, a vicious, giant wolf-cougar baring its teeth. It all proved to be a little too much for the police officer to process, even with all his training for being able to react to unbelievable situations.

John Berkley’s shock seemed to have subsided, and he, in a surprisingly calm way, said, “Jacob, you’ve got to stop this.”

Jacob turned from the screaming Tommy Rogers to find his art teacher behind him.

John said, “All of this isn’t right, Jacob.”

Jacob said, “But they should know what it is like to be tormented.”

John said, “But not like this, Jacob.”

“Then how?”

John said, “Jacob, you can’t punish people for being mean. You can’t lash out at things that don’t go your way. There’s other ways to change the world around you.”

“But I don’t know those other ways.”

John said, “Maybe it’s time you left the maze for the grassy field.”

Jacob seemed for a moment to stare off into space. He stared off in a focused-unfocused way, as if recalling a distant memory.

It was at this point that Officer Raymond’s shock subsided, and the police officer raised his gun, the police officer not quite sure at whom he should point the gun. The police officer shouted, “Nobody move.”

The wolf-cougar growled again, bearing its teeth, and both John and Officer Raymond thought the wolf-cougar was about to pounce, but then John and Officer Raymond could have sworn they saw a flicker of a man standing beside Jacob—the man seeming to have paint smeared on his face—and with a loud pop, Jacob and the creatures vanished.

Tommy Rogers fell to the floor, the tattoos no longer writhing on his body.

John and Officer Raymond looked down at the floor. The wolf-cougar and the gorilla football player were now two-dimensional paintings on the linoleum.

Across town, in the mural of a grassy field that had been painted on the wall of an abandoned house, Jacob appeared at the side of his father.

Jacob and his father regarded one another through the smear of paint over David Grist’s face. And standing in the house’s living room, Joanne Walsh, with tears in her eyes, covered her mouth as she regarded her son and his father together again.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 48 — Murals

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Earworm: Part 43 — The Shot Heard Round the Gym

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 42 — Hero

Joel entered the gym. Two volleyball nets were stretched across the floor. Groups of girls gathered in scattered conferences waiting for gym class to begin as boys shot the volleyballs into basketball hoops. Joel trotted up to a basketball hoop, calling “Hey,” holding out his hands to receive a pass. Bobby Milner tossed Joel a ball. Joel shot it, and it dropped through the hoop, bouncing to William Knight’s feet. “Yo, little help,” Joel called to William.

William looked down at the ball and walked away.

Bobby Milner snatched up the ball and tossed it to Joel. “What a dick,” Bobby said, cocking his head in William’s direction. Joel shrugged, shooting the ball again. Joel had to agree. But he didn’t know why. He harbored definite resentment toward that William kid, even if he had no real reason to. He couldn’t help it. After all, Joel’s girlfriend kept dreaming about the kid. Granted, she was dreaming about Joel, too. Dreaming that Joel was a psychopath. And Joel had to wonder: why did she dream Joel would try to hurt her? These questions nagged him since he hung up the phone with her last night. And new questions kept surfacing in his mind. Questions like: why was Hope absent from school today?

Probably taking out a restraining order against me, he thought.

But even if Hope was in school, what could Joel say to her? What could she say to him? What could they possibly say to each other? Could they really discuss that for some reason Joel was the boogieman in her dreams? Was Joel supposed to apologize to her? Should he say he was sorry for peeing on her old man’s grave in a dream? Did she perceive some malevolent cruelty in Joel, a cruelty only realized in her subconscious? He couldn’t think of any terrible attributes of himself that would cause such fear. And now he’ll be the first guy at Mystic High School—any high school, for that matter—dumped because his girlfriend was having bad dreams about him. He’d heard of being dumped for being too nice, too mean, too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, too ugly, too dumb, even too smart, but never for being a knife wielding maniac in someone’s bad dreams.

“All right, all right,” Mr. Marnet called in a strained voice, trying to out-volume the bouncing balls. “C’mon ladies and germs, let’s get going here.” The students fell into a single line, Mr. Marnet standing before them, clipboard in hand, doing his best drill sergeant impersonation. Ms. Maybree, the girl’s gym teacher, leaned against the far wall. Ms. Maybree was a manly woman of an indiscernible age. It was rare for Ms. Maybree to make it to work all five days of the school week, and the students were known to say, Maybree she’ll be here today, Maybree she won’t. In line, Bobby Milner and Guard struggled for possession of a volleyball. “Gentlemen,” Mr. Marnet said, “and I use the term loosely, please stop.” Guard relinquished the ball as Bobby gave it a final yank. “Thank you,” Mr. Marnet said. He then took attendance, providing nicknames for some of the students, a few he personally bestowed upon them. Names like, Justin-time Philips, or Billy O-My-Malley. Names that would follow some of them for the remainder of their schooling, and maybe even beyond. When he came to Joel’s name, he called, “Fitchy,” with unmistakable admiration. Joel nodded at the teacher, and Mr. Marnet moved on. At William’s name, he called, “Little Willy Knightmare,” in his ain’t I a hoot manner. Mr. Marnet liked that one, bestowing the name during William’s very first gym class.

“Here,” William said.

Joel glanced down the line of students to William. Joel knew William couldn’t actually be responsible for Hope’s dreams, yet Joel felt anger toward him for being in those dreams, and he justified this animosity with the fact that, whether the kid knew it or not, he was causing a definite rift in Joel and his girlfriend’s relationship. And since Joel couldn’t get mad at Hope’s dreams, getting mad at the dreams’ subject seemed a reasonable alternative.

After Mr. Marnet finished taking attendance, he called, “All you guys with balls step forward.”

A spatter of giggles broke out along the line of students.

Volleyballs,” Mr. Marnet corrected. Four boys, including Joel, stepped out of line. Mr. Marnet saying, “Okay, Fitchy, you start picking the teams.”

“Why’s he get to pick first?” Bobby whined, holding a volleyball against his hip.

“Cause I said so,” Mr. Marnet said.

“I’ll take Guard,” Joel said, nodding toward his friend. Guard trotted out and high-fived Joel. The other students waved to be chosen next. William Knight stared at Joel. Joel glanced at him. What is this kid’s problem? The pick came back to Joel. “Meyers,” Joel called. Phil Meyers joined Joel’s team. William Knight still stared at Joel. The look in William’s eyes was if he had some definite resentment toward Joel, too. Joel shifted from foot to foot and turned to regard his teammates. Could William be staring at one of them? The teams expanded, the pickings became thin. The choices whittling down to two students. One of those students being William, his gaze crawling all over Joel like squirming worms. Joel couldn’t bear to meet those eyes, so he picked skinny and frail Becky Slarns—who didn’t have the coordination to chew gum and do algebra at the same time—to join his team. William was deferred to Bobby Milner’s team. Bobby clucked his tongue in protest.

Mr. Marnet directed the teams to the nets. Joel’s team was to take on Bobby Milner’s team—and William Knight. “You know the rules.” Mr. Marnet’s voice rose and hung in the rafters of the ceiling. “Three hits per side, games to fifteen, you must rotate with each side out. And no spiking.” Most of the male students groaned at this.

The games started. Players knocking the balls back and forth over the nets. Joel made digs, he set teammates, he saved the ball from going out of bounds. At one point, while playing in the front row, Joel sent the ball over the net with a dramatic dig, the ball arching over the net, finding its way to William. William sent the ball climbing back over the net, floating it to Joel, and Joel found his competitive instincts overriding his control. He leapt from the floor, arm cocked like a gun’s hammer, the trigger pulling, his arm springing. Pow. With a hollow slap, the ball ricocheted off William’s face.

“Oh,” the students called as William dropped onto his rear. The class broke into nervous laughter. William held his nose. Blood sneaking from beneath his cupped hands.

“Joel,” Mr. Marnet said, “granted, it was a nice shot, but I plainly stated there was no spiking, remember?”

“Yeah, sorry,” Joel said.

Still holding his bleeding nose, William climbed unassisted from the floor. Ms. Maybree wandered over with two white towels. She tossed one to William and dropped the other on the floor, mopping up the scarlet drops with her foot.

“Little Willy Knightmare,” Mr. Marnet said, “you okay?”

William didn’t answer. He tried taking the towel from his face, but with a new spatter of blood dropping to the floor, he returned it to his nose.

“Why don’t you have the nurse look at that,” Mr. Marnet said as Ms. Maybree shuffled over with the towel, still on the bottom of her foot, and mopped up the new puddle of blood.

William walked across the gym, swimming through the deafening silence to the entrance and out the door.

By the end of Gym Class, Joel now in the locker room, William Knight’s resentful glare had buried into his mind like a harpoon. Why did this kid seem so mad at him? At least, why was he so mad before Joel clocked him in the face with a volleyball?

“Hey, man, you ready?” Guard tapped Joel on the back, breaking Joel from his thoughts.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, I’m ready,” Joel said, shutting his gym locker’s door.

“You look out of it, man, you all right?” Guard said.

“Huh? Yeah,” Joel said, following his friend toward the locker room’s exit. “Hey,” he said, “hold up a minute. I want to talk to that William kid.”

“Please tell me you’re going over there to dope-slap him.”

“I just want to say sorry for cracking him in the nose.”

“Are you serious? You don’t owe that dickhead anything. If he had his hands up, he wouldn’ta gotten his face smacked.”

“Yeah, well, I can do without the bad karma.”

“Bad what?”

“Forget it. I just feel bad for giving him a bloody nose.”

“You gotta be kidding me. Look, you did the kid a favor. You taught him a valuable lesson.”

“What lesson is that?”

“That,” Guard said as if explaining the most fundamental of facts, “if something is flying at your face, you need to put up your hands and knock it away. It’s a lesson that will come in handy as more and more people’ll want to beat the snot out of him.”

Joel shook his head and walked off toward William. Guard followed.

In the back of the room, William slammed his locker’s door shut and turned to go. Joel’s looming form stopped him. William glanced at Guard and then glared at Joel.

“Hey,” Joel said, “sorry about…”

William cut him off, saying in a low, murmuring growl, “I’m William Knight.”

“Huh?” Joel said, stepping back and cocking his head.

“You remember that,” William said.

Joel stared at him. “Um, yeah, I know who you are.”

“And you always will,” William said.

Joel groped for a response. There was something he should say. But Guard beat him to it, saying, “What’s this freak talking about?” Guard cocked his thumb in William’s face, saying, “Get lost, before I give you another bloody nose.”

William shrugged and walked away, muttering something under his breath.

“What did he say?” Guard said to Joel. Joel shrugged, shaking his head. Guard saying, “Freak. I’ll force-feed him the whole equipment closet full of volleyballs. He’ll shit them out like a bitch havin a litter.”

But Joel wasn’t listening. He did hear the last thing William muttered as he had walked away.

“Sweet dreams, Joel.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 44 — That’s It

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With Drawn: Part 46 — A Little Help

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 45 — Emphatic Declarations

John Berkley ran through the hallways of the Mystic Island Middle School with two police officers on his tale. John couldn’t believe what he was seeing around him. What he was seeing were students and staff being tormented by the figures of Jacob’s mural.

John was not the only one who could not believe what he was seeing. Both Officer Raymond and Officer Mann could not believe what they were seeing either. In fact, both officers stopped dead in their tracks for a moment when they saw what was happening around them. But only Officer Raymond was able to regain enough of his faculties to continue his pursuit of John Berkley.

Officer Mann just stood where he was, gaping at the scene around him—skeletons darting about, a mad dog, zombies…

One of the zombie baseball players walked up to Officer Mann. The zombie and police officer regarded one another with the same expression of staring eyes and slack jaw.

Officer Mann slowly and shakily took hold of the radio on his shoulder. Officer Mann pressed the talk button and said, “Um, Officer Raymond? Um… Jordan, a little help, please?”

But Officer Raymond didn’t hear his partner’s radio transmission. Officer Raymond was too busy fighting through the screams and mayhem, trying to catch John Berkley, whom Officer Raymond was now convinced had something to do with what was happening around him.

When two skeletons dressed in basketball uniforms ran past Officer Raymond, the skeletons holding a screaming Peter Maynard over their heads, Officer Raymond said to himself, “What the hell is going on in this place?”

Meanwhile, across town in the living room of the abandoned house at 42 Savage Street, Joanne Walsh stood before a painting of her dead husband. Joanne had been trying to talk with the painting.

Most people, including Joanne herself, might think it was foolish, or downright crazy, to talk to a painting, but this painting had moved. In fact, it seemed to have come alive.

Joanne said to the painting, “Please, David, can you help our son?”

John Berkley had called to inform Joanne that Jacob’s paintings had come to life, and from the sounds of John Berkley’s phone call, it sounded like those paintings were tearing up the Mystic Island Middle School. But John Berkley had been disconnected, so now Joanne didn’t know what was happening with her son. Joanne figured that maybe, seeing as this painting of David Grist seemed to have come to life as well, perhaps he would have some kind of insight as to what was going on at the school. And as unbelievable as it was that Joanne was trying to talk to a painting, it seemed even more unbelievable when the painting seemed to be trying to talk back to her.

Joanne could not hear the painting’s words, and she said to the painting, “I can’t hear you, David, what are you trying to tell me?”

The painting continued to speak, but still, Joanne could not hear what it was saying.

Joanne said to the painting, “David, Jacob is in trouble. Please, you need to help him if you can. David, please, can you help him?”

The painting of David Grist regarded Joanne, his eyes gazing down at her through the paint smeared on his face. And then the figure of David Grist turned and walked away from the wall, walking deeper into the grass field of the mural.

Joanne called to the mural, “Wait. Where are you going? You’ve got to help him.”

The painted figure of David turned to face Joanne. It closed its eyes and lowered its head, looking for a moment as if it was praying.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 47 — Out of the Maze

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Earworm: Part 42 — Hero

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 41 — Seeds of Doubt

Ms. Bradford’s monotonous voice crashed into Hope’s thoughts. Hope flinched. Had she fallen asleep? She glanced around the classroom. The other students watched Ms. Bradford attentively. Hope turned to look for William Knight. He was not in his seat. Mid-sentence, Ms. Bradford looked to the classroom door, and, sounding strangely inviting, she called, “Ah, Joel, come on in.” Hope turned to see Joel saunter into the room. He strolled to the front of the class and, with his usual, confident smile, he offered Hope a familiar wink. Ms. Bradford cleared her throat. “Now, class,” she announced, sounding as if acknowledging a room full of first graders. “Joel has something important to tell us.”

Joel faced the class, cleared his throat, and said, “Fellow classmates. It has come to my attention,” he paused, winking again at Hope, his smile widening, “that Hope Ferretti is a witch.”

The class gasped.

“What?” Hope squealed.

“She speaks of magic lands, of flying, and of raising the dead.” Joel said. A wave of accusatory exclamations traveled through the students.

“Joel? What are you talking about?” Hope said.

“I say Hope is a witch,” Joel said. “Who else thinks she is guilty?”

The students cheered and began chanting, “Witch. Witch. Witch.”

Joel’s smile vanished, his eyes filling with malice, and he strode forward, twisting his fingers into Hope’s long, black hair. He pulled her from her seat. She struggled to keep her balance as the class converged on her, their many hands groping. They whisked her across the floor and out the classroom’s door, through the hallway, pulling, pushing, touching, every student wanting to take part, all chanting, “Witch. Witch. Witch.” A heavy door banged open, and the crowd dragged Hope outside the building. She stumbled over many feet, righted by groping hands, until finally, the crowd abated. She stood on the football field. A deafening roar of cheers rose from hundreds of students lining the bleachers. They stomped their feet on the bleachers, chanting in rhythmic unison, “Witch. Witch. Witch.”

“I’m dreaming,” Hope screamed. “This isn’t real.”

A giant pyre stood in the field’s center, a pile of wood about twenty feet high, a tall pole rising from its center. Two of Joel’s football buddies dragged Hope onto the pyre, binding her wrists to the stake that topped the structure. The crowd hooted and called as Hope thrashed against the ropes like a hooked fish.

Joel was now waving a long torch with showman exuberance. “Hope is guilty of witchcraft,” he hollered to the crowd, pointing up at Hope. The crowd responded with animalistic, frantic whoops. Joel then called to them, “And what do we do to witches?”

The crowd chanted a new word that iced Hope’s blood. “Burn. Burn. Burn.”

“Will no one defend this witch?” Joel called to them.

A voice cut through the chanting. “I will.”

The crowd gasped and went silent.

William was striding across the field. He stopped at the bottom edge of the pyre, looking up at Hope. “I will,” he repeated. He lifted from the ground—in a rather Mary Martin-like way—hovering a few feet before Hope. “I can take you away from all this,” he said, spreading his arms. “Come with me, let me take you back to your castle.”

Hope closed her eyes, remembering the castle’s vast halls of gold and marble, her father’s familiar voice and gentle smile, and when she opened her eyes, she perceived the flicker of a glowing object below her chin. The lunar jewel was hanging from her neck. The same stars and moon William had given her in a far-off dream. Images flooded Hope’s mind, false memories—her father’s gaping neck, the graveyard, Joel’s insane grin—and Hope looked into William’s eyes. “It’s you,” she whispered.

“Yes, Hope,” William said with a look so earnest it was almost laughable, “it is me. And I will take you…”

“No,” Hope said, “it’s you who’s been doing all this.”

“Hope, let me save you.” William’s voice took on a desperate edge. “Let me take you from all this.” He gestured to the crowd. “Let me take you back to your castle.”

“Somehow, you’re behind this,” Hope said. “It’s you playing with my mind.”

“No, Hope, it’s him,” William said, pointing to Joel at the foot of the pyre. “He’s the one keeping you from your dreams. See?”

Joel lit the pyre with the torch.

The crowd became frantic as fire washed over the structure, the flames trickling up the stacked planks toward Hope.

“Hope, let me save you,” William said.

“You gave me my father only to steal him away again.”

“Hope, we have to go, please, let me take you.”

“It’s you behind the nightmares.”


“No. Leave me alone,” Hope shouted. The rising heat’s shimmer distorted William’s image, the swelter reaching inside of her, cooking her. “It’s not real,” she screamed, suffocating in the charred air, her nostrils burning with smoke and heat, the dancing flames erasing William from her view. She struggled against the ropes, hearing the crackling roar as the flames devoured the pyre like feasting creatures. “Wake up,” she screamed. The lick of a flame bit her toe. This was no dream. She was about to burn. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t break free of the ropes. The searing pain would slash her skin like razors and she would smell the char of her own cooking flesh. “No,” she screeched, running across her floor. “No. No. No.” Darkness exploded into a white glare. Someone grabbed her. She thrashed at the blurred forms looming around her. The stench of smoke stained her nostrils. “No. Leave me alone. No.” Hands fought to capture her. She slapped at them.

“Hope,” voices shouted. “Hope.”

“No,” Hope screeched.

Strong hands shackled her. “Hope,” a man called, stern and commanding. “Hope, you’re awake, it’s over, you’re awake.”

Another hand rubbed her back. “You’re awake, Hope,” a woman said. “Shhhhhh. You’re awake.” Hope opened her eyes and pulled away from the arms. She looked up at her stepfather. Her mother stood beside him. Her sister stood in the doorway. “Hope,” her mother said, touching Hope’s arm, “are you all right?”

Hope looked at her mother like an Alzheimer’s victim wondering how she arrived someplace. Her body trembled. “No,” she said, bursting into tears.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 43 — The Shot Heard Round the Gym

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With Drawn: Part 45 — Emphatic Declarations

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 44 — The Something in the Hallway

In the Mystic Island Middle School gymnasium, John Berkley helped Mr. Barney to his feet. People in the distance could still be heard screaming in horror. John held Mr. Barney up, steadying the woozy gym teacher on his feet.

John said to Mr. Barney, “Where’s Jacob now? I’ve got to find Jacob.”

Mr. Barney said, “Grist? Do you think that weird little kid could really be behind all of this? I mean, how is this even…”

Suddenly, the doors beneath where Jacob’s mural had been, the ones that led to the outside of the school, burst open. Officer Jordan Raymond and Officer Andrew Mann entered the gymnasium with their guns drawn.

For the record, they both had Glocks, which is the same kind of handgun that killed Dennis Walsh recently in his den.

Officer Raymond was athletic looking with cropped sandy colored hair. Officer Mann was as round as the donuts he liked to eat, and he had a nest of curly red locks.

Officer Raymond shouted for John Berkley and Harvey Barney to, “Get your hands up and lie down on your stomachs, now.” His now sounding very emphatic.

When John raised his hands, he let go of Mr. Barney, and the gym teacher crumbled to the floor. Mr. Barney sprawled himself out on the floor, trying to keep his hands held as high as possible in compliance with the man with the gun’s orders. Mr. Barney, at that moment, looked somewhat like a skydiver in freefall.

John Berkley wasn’t quite as willing to comply with the police officer’s orders.

Officer Raymond shouted at John, “I said to get down on the floor, now.” This now was even more emphatic than before.

John Berkley then did something that Officer Raymond did not expect. Even though John Berkley had a gun pointed at him, he did not get down on his stomach. Instead, he turned and ran out of the gymnasium.

He did this because he felt he needed to try and find Jacob and convince him to stop these now-living paintings before someone, including Jacob, got hurt.

And, as unexpected as John Berkley turning and running from the gym was for Officer Raymond, that would turn out to be one of the least unexpected things he would witness that day.

“Hey, stop,” Officer Raymond called after John Berkley, and then the two police officers ran after the art teacher.

Meanwhile, Mr. Abbott managed to get the classroom door open as Billy and Jeremy thrust Tommy Rogers out of room 102. The classroom door slammed shut behind Tommy, and now Tommy was out in the hallway with Jacob Grist, as well as a canine-type animal, and what looked to be a giant gorilla dressed in a football uniform.

Tommy tried to run, but the gorilla grabbed hold of him. Tommy screeched for help as the gorilla tore off Tommy’s shirt—Tommy was remembering the drawing Jacob had done of him getting his head ripped off by a gorilla, a gorilla similar to the one that now had him in its grip. But decapitation was not what Jacob intended for Tommy Rogers.

Jacob Grist stepped up to Tommy, Jacob producing a black Sharpie magic marker from his pocket, and he uncapped the marker with his teeth. Jacob then began to tattoo Tommy Rogers’s skin with the Sharpie in the same manner Tommy had tattooed Jacob with a Sharpie in the gym’s locker room. Only, Jacob did not draw crude renditions of sex organs and foul words.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 46 — A Little Help

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With Drawn: Part 44 — The Something in the Hallway

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 43 — Pleas for Help

John Berkley rushed through the Mystic Island Middle School hallways. He was talking on his cell phone to Joanne Walsh, telling Mrs. Walsh that he thought Jacob’s paintings had somehow come alive, when he rushed into the school’s gymnasium.

Mr. Barney was sitting on the gymnasium’s floor, the gym teacher holding his head and looking rather groggy. What’s more, John noticed that all that remained of Jacob’s mural were the words: MYSTIC MIDDLE SCHOOL. HOME OF THE ASSHOLES! All the figures had disappeared.

Without thinking, John hung up his cell phone, even though Joanne Walsh was saying something on the other end. John ran over to Mr. Barney.

The gym teacher appeared to be okay, but he had been knocked out and seemed to have cobwebs in his head.

Cobwebs in one’s head is only an expression meaning that Mr. Barney had been concussed and he was feeling very confused and woozy.

John said to Mr. Barney, “What happened?”

Mr. Barney said, “I don’t really know.” He looked up at the place on the wall where the mural once was, and he said, “I think that Grist kid’s mural came to life.”

While Mr. Barney was saying that he thought Jacob’s mural came to life, across the school, in room 102, Mr. Abbott and his students, including Tommy Rogers, were still huddled, as per lockdown protocol, in the back corner of their dark classroom. Jacob Grist was standing out in the hallway with something large and unpleasant.

Jacob called in through the room’s locked door, “C’mon, Tommy, you really don’t want me to have to come in there.”

The unpleasant thing in the hallway growled again.

Billy Warren said to Tommy Rogers, “Go on, Tommy, get out of here. We don’t want whatever’s out there coming in here.” Billy turned to the other students and said, “Right?”

The other students voiced their agreement with Billy.

Tommy looked at the others and said, “I’m not going out there.” Tommy then called toward the locked door, “I’m not going out there.”

Jacob called in through the door, “Very well, then.”

From out in the hallway came the sound of very heavy, trudging footsteps as a larger shadow seemed to completely block out the band of light peeking under the classroom door.

The students began pleading with Tommy, saying things like:

“C’mon Tommy, get out of here.”

“Go out and see him, Tommy.”

“He only wants you, Tommy.”

Billy and another student, Jeremy Williams, stood from the floor and they began pulling Tommy toward the door.

Tommy flailed his arms and kicked his feet as he screamed for the boys to stop.

Billy said, grunting with the effort of pulling a fighting Tommy, “C’mon, we don’t want those things in here.”

Tommy continued to struggle against the two boys. Tommy almost got free from their grip, but when the something out in the hallway began banging hard enough on the classroom door to shake the door in its frame, Mr. Abbott joined Billy and Jeremy in dragging Tommy to the door.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 45 — Emphatic Declarations

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Earworm: Part 41 — Seeds of Doubt

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 40 — Hostage

“So, you ever gonna tell me what’s the matter?” Joel’s voice, coming across the phone lines, sounded distant and foreign. Hope lay on her bed. She ran her fingers through her hair and tucked her feet under her pillows. The wind rocked the oak’s boughs outside. She glanced at the lime-green teddy bear propped, upside down, against her headboard. Its plastic, black eyes stared at her. Her heart skipped as images of Joel—insane eyes, evil grin—clung to her mind like wet dough to fingers. She took a deep breath, then let it run out in an audible sigh. She didn’t want to involve Joel in any of this. She didn’t want to plant seeds of doubt in his head. She didn’t want him to question why she dreamt he was Jack the Ripper.

“I told you, it’s nothing.”

“But it’s not nothing. You… not… look good.”

“Nice grammar.”

“You know what I mean. Is this really because of dreams?”

“They’re just dreams,” Hope said, unsure of whom she was assuring.

“But why won’t you tell me about them? You told me about the other dreams.”

“I don’t know.” Her gaze wandered around the room. Her eyes fell on her poster. Her heart did a hard thud. “I just don’t want to talk about it.”

“Are you still dreaming about William, or are they still about your dad…?” What part of not wanting to talk about it wasn’t he getting? What did he want to hear? Why did he keep pestering her? “Are they about that castle? Or are they about…”

“They’re about you, okay?” Hope snapped into the phone.

Silence. The static on the phone lines sounded like jet engines.

“Me?” Joel said.

“Look, I told you I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Yeah, but… what was the dream about?” Joel said, hurt evident in his voice.


“I mean, did I like try to hurt you, or…”

“Look, Joel…”

“C’mon, you gotta tell me now.”

Hope sighed. She glanced at the staring teddy bear. “I dreamt you…”


“I dreamt you killed my father.” She closed her eyes.

“What?” Joel’s voice squeaked. “You dreamt I killed your father?”

“Well… yeah.”

“How did I kill him?”

“You slashed his throat with a knife.” The image flashed across the backs of her eyelids. She opened her eyes and watched her ceiling.

“I slashed his throat?”

“And in another one…” Hope stated like someone beginning a long list.

“Whoa, wait, you had more than one?”

“There’s a few,” Hope stated coldly.

“A few? Like what else?”

“Well there was one where you chased me around the school with a knife…” She felt detached. All of it flowing from her in a sudden torrent. “And then I dreamt you danced on my father’s grave and peed on his headstone…” These last words were out before she realized she said them, not considering how badly they’d cut until Joel reacted.

“I did what?”

“Hey, you asked,” she said in her cold cadence. “Oh, and then my father popped out of the ground and grabbed you by the throat and”—she offered an uncomfortable giggle in spite of herself—“your eyes kept bulging until they popped like balloons and… oh, wait, that was a different dream.”

“You really dreamt I peed on your father’s grave?” Joel said, as if to himself.

“That doesn’t even count all the dreams about you and Tara,” Hope added as an afterthought.

“I can’t believe you dreamt I peed on your father’s grave. Wait, what’s this about me and Tara?”

“Nothing. I just dreamt the two of you were together in bed, laughing at me.”        “Why are you dreaming all this? Why would you dream I’d hurt you?”

“I don’t know,” Hope said, her voice becoming guarded again. She glanced around her room.

“So, let’s see,” Joel said, “you have these really great dreams about this William Knight kid, and you dream I’m whizzin on your dad’s headstone?”         Hope closed her eyes again. “Do I really like scare you or something?” Joel said.

“No, you don’t scare me. I mean, how am I supposed to explain my dreams?”

“This is the weirdest thing…”

“Look, Mr. Grey said…”

“Mr. Grey? You told Mr. Grey you’re dreaming I’m trying to kill you?”

“He asked about the dreams and… you’re the one that brought them up to him, remember?”

“Yeah, but…”

“He said they’re just dreams. They’re nothing, they don’t matter.”

“They do matter. They’re affecting you. I mean, you look sick or something.”

“I’m just tired.” She allowed the exhaustion to wash over her. There was silence. Her mind drifted toward sleep.

“Look,” Joel said, “I’m sorry about… I have no idea what about, but obviously I should be sorry about something, seeing as I’m scaring you. Do you want to break up?”

“No,” Hope groaned, snapping back from her drifting trip toward slumber.

“Is there something I’m doing to, like, hurt you? Or, I mean, is there something you’re not telling me?”


“Then why are you having nightmares about me?”

“I don’t know.” Hope closed her eyes. There was another long silence. Hope felt herself drifting again. “Look,” she said, “I feel like we’re going in circles here, and I’m real tired, I just want to go to bed, okay?”

“Fine,” Joel said. There was hesitation in his voice. “Well… goodnight then.”

“Goodnight,” Hope said, turning off her phone. She curled into a fetal position, and she began to cry, letting the tears run her onto the fingers of sleep.

Meanwhile, across town, William lay in his bed, his fingers laced behind his head, his eyes staring up into the dark. His thoughts kept returning to Hope turning on him today in math class and sneering, “What’re you lookin at?” The look in her eyes was that of contempt toward William. But why toward William? It was Joel haunting her nightmares. Maybe the nightmares were too much? Were the dreams too harsh? No. It was Joel who was harsh. It was Joel wielding the knife and chasing after her. William sighed and glanced over at his Spidey clock. It read just after midnight. His eyes narrowed, inspecting the outline of Spidey in the red glow of the numbers. And then it hit him as if Spidey had shot the idea out of his webbing and hit William in the face with it. A hero. That’s what Hope needed. She needed a hero. She needed more than just to see Joel as a villain. It was time for William to be the hero. It was time for William to save Hope from Joel.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 42 — Hero

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