Continued from: Earworm: Part 49 — Dazed and Confused
Joel opened the exterior door and walked into the hallway leading to the locker room. The contrast of plunging from sunlight into the dim corridor momentarily robbing him of his eyesight. He blinked away dark blotches and ran his hand along the wall until the disorientation passed. Joel envisioned the volleyball firing down at William’s face, the memory surfacing in Joel’s mind again. It had been surfacing randomly in his mind since it happened. William’s head snapping back, blood pouring from beneath his fingers. Joel shook off the thought and ducked into the locker room. The room was empty. Joel calling, “Hello?”
Joel walked to his locker, his cleats clacking on the concrete floor, echoing in breath-like drumbeats. Where was everyone? They did all leave practice together, didn’t they? Joel couldn’t remember. Like the forgotten punch line of a joke lost mid-delivery, any recollection of practice seemed to be escaping him. Joel took a deep breath, stopping at his locker. Still no memory of practice. He tried his locker’s door. It wouldn’t open, the handle rattling uselessly in his hand.
“What the hell?” Joel said to his stuck locker door. But his locker door was the least of his problems. Back to why he didn’t remember practice. Did he get hit too hard? Did the coach send him to the showers early? Joel didn’t think so. He remembered an uneasy dream about being paralyzed the other night, but he had no memory of taking a hit in practice. In fact, he didn’t remember being at practice at all. Was he turning into Hope, unable to tell the difference between real life and a dream? Joel stopped fighting the locker’s handle for a moment and placed his forehead against the locker’s door. He closed his eyes, searching for any memory of the past few hours. Nothing came. “Okay,” he whispered, “this is getting scary.” He rattled the locker’s handle again. The latch still jiggling uselessly in his fingers. He wiggled it so hard the entire locker’s door shook. Still nothing. Joel smacked the locker with the heel of his palm, the collision of flesh and metal reverberating throughout the room. Still, the locker didn’t open. But Guard’s locker, beside his, did swing open. Joel glanced into it.
Guard was crammed into the locker, his body twisted, arms at awkward angles—as if he’d been forced into the locker with a hydraulic press—his throat a bloody, ragged mess—as if someone jammed an explosive into his esophagus. Joel staggered back, almost toppling over one of the wooden benches running parallel to the lockers. This couldn’t be real. But it seemed as lifelike as anything he’d ever witnessed. And as his brain grasped for reality, all the lockers swung open, including Joel’s. Each member of Joel’s team was jammed into a locker, each boy’s eyes open and staring, each boy’s throat torn out. Every locker was filled, except for one. Joel’s locker was a coffin awaiting a patron.
“Oh God, Joel,” Hope screamed, running into the room. She jumped into his arms, burying her face in his chest.
“Hope,” Joel said, “What the hell happened?”
“It was horrible,” Hope sobbed, her voice muffled by Joel’s jersey.
“But what happened?” Joel said to Hope, “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you,” she said, looking up at him. Her pupils glowed a green phosphorescence—the eyes of a nocturnal animal caught in a spotlight—her face a slick, oozing mass like melting wax. She grinned, revealing teeth shaped like tiny spades.
“Jesus.” Joel thrashed away from her, almost tripping over the bench again.
A soft groan came from Guard’s locker. Joel looked over to see Guard’s eyes darting around in panicky, spastic movements. “Joel,” Guard wheezed, “Help me.”
Hope—or rather the creature Hope had become—followed Joel’s terrified gaze to Guard. She smiled—sneered—with her blade teeth. “Whoops, I didn’t finish the job,” she said sheepishly. She bounded to Guard, grabbed his arms and yanked him from the locker. Guard screamed with high shrieks as Hope dug her shovel teeth into his throat, tearing at his flesh like a buzzard at a carcass. Tendrils of dark, red tissue hung from her mouth and she slurped them up as if finishing off spaghetti. Her dimpled grin washed across her face—her teeth stained red—and she dropped Guard to the floor. Her stare fixed onto Joel, her eyes glowing green. “How about a kiss, handsome?” she said, bounding toward him.
Joel sat up in his bed, breath laboring, stomach turning in disgusted knots. “Oh God,” he gagged. He turned on his light and looked around his room, feeling dizzy, as if his brains had liquefied and were pouring out of his ears. The world seemed askew—more than the intimidation of night daring him to go back to sleep, it seemed the whole world was out of place. He glanced around his bedroom. He saw clothes scattered across the floor, he saw his dresser, his desk, the shelves cluttered with trophies, and his posters of athletes on the walls. Including his prized poster of Tom Brady, the poster his father got signed by the QB at a charity auction. Brady was frozen mid-throw, his left arm cocked to unleash a fifty-yarder… Something wasn’t right. Brady wasn’t a southpaw. And with a siren-like screech, Hope leapt from the end of Joel’s bed. She pinned him down, her eyes glowing, her spade teeth bared to remove his throat.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 51 — Ring Around the Rosy
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