Continued from: Earworm: Part 5 — About Time
William tried to blend in with the rush of students coursing to the cafeteria. If it was anything like his last school—or any school he’d been to, really—he wanted to be as unnoticed as possible. Maybe there was a magic potion that could make him vanish—not having to listen to the taunts and the teasing, not to mention the revenge he could enact on the bullies and hallway parasites. Three words: phantom book dumping. Maybe he could turn into a tiny fly—like that old horror movie—and he could finish high school clinging, unnoticed, to the classrooms’ ceilings. But with his luck, the principal would swat him at graduation with his own diploma.
But maybe this school will be different. It is an island, after all. Maybe the town was small enough to have a smaller pool of assholes. A sharp fillip stung his earlobe. Nope, he guessed the pool wasn’t that small. He turned to see who had flicked him, but he saw only a surge of faces like the crashing foam of the tide. He rushed forward and felt the same sharp flick on his other earlobe. Shrugging and ducking, he walked faster, attempting to outdistance the flickers, but he was stanched by the crowd, and these tormentors were pros, countering each of his elusive moves and continuing to flick his earlobes with remarkable precision. He spotted an opening, and with uncharacteristic grace—like an NFL running back—he sidestepped a cluster of girls and ducked past a teacher, losing his adversaries. It was a move he could never hope to duplicate in an actual athletic event, but necessity breeds ability.
The cafeteria, with its countless chairs and stretching rows of tables, looked like a medieval banquet hall. William made his way through hordes of students to the lunch line. He shuffled along, viewing the choices of supposed nourishment beneath yards of heat lamps. Burnt french-fries, soggy hamburgers, Sloppy Joes—their insides spilling from buns, giving them the appearance of disemboweled animals—but William passed them by, not wanting to bite into the hard gristle of the hamburgers, or having the fillings of Sloppy Joes drop onto his tray. And as for the oil-slick wedges they called pizza, he suspected the Stry-dex Company conspired with school lunch providers in the hopes of a massive zit epidemic. William spotted a sandwich wrapped in plastic wrap and—guessing the mysterious meat to be roast beef—lifted it from the shelf, along with a handful of slimy carrot sticks that were floating in a pale of melted ice like the spoils of a shipwreck.
He paid a lunch lady, who wore an outfit that could have made its debut on the Zapruder Film, and he returned to the expanse of tables and chairs, now occupied by what appeared as a colony of bees darting from friend to friend with buzzing droning nonsense. He scanned the tables for a friendly place to sit. None offered itself. He was amazed at how empty seats were always claimed occupied upon his approach. He spotted, on the far side of the cafeteria, a solitary group of about seven students—misfits alienated into their own ragged clique, looking like a mini Star Trek convention. William took a final glance around the tables. “Guess I’ll sit with the nerds,” he huffed.
He scurried to the table, scooting into a seat before anyone could proclaim it taken. The students at the table stopped—mid-chew, mid-sip, mid-breath—and looked at him. And, as William has always done when faced with the unwelcoming stares of strangers, he stared back with an unchanging expression. The group returned their attention to the student at the table’s head—a goofy looking kid with saucer ears, a perpetual smile, and pupils with no attachments to muscles. He was describing a particularly gruesome scene in a horror movie, the kid recounting, in graphic detail, the stringy entrails of a dismembered character. William ignored the story as he chewed his sandwich—trying not to allow his imagination to turn the roast beef into the unfortunate character’s torn flesh—and he regarded the many students gathered throughout the dining hall. As if guided by radar, he spotted Hope sitting a few tables away from him. William watched each of her gestures and motions, storing them in a mental library for future reverie—the way she tilted her head while listening to whomever she conferred with, the way her dimples flexed with the anticipation of a smile, the way her eyes now met his…
His heart crashed to his feet. He straightened in his seat. His and Hope’s eyes had met. He’d been caught staring. He turned away and pretended to pay attention to his table-mates’ conversation, now apparently about a local, haunted church, recounted by a table-mate whose complexion hinted to an obvious love for school pizza. When William thought it safe to steal another glance, he looked toward Hope’s table. Now, she and two other girls craned their necks to view him. What was happening? Why were these girls looking at him? Now, more than ever, he wished he were a tiny fly that could buzz over to Hope’s table and listen to her conversation.
Hope, meanwhile, asked her friend Tara Larson, “Who is that kid?”
“What kid?” Tara asked, looking up from her lunch and turning to scan the other tables. Tara was a petite girl with auburn hair that hung down her back in spiraling curls.
“The one at that table,” Hope answered, nodding toward William Knight. “See him? The one listening to George Banterman.”
Jennifer Waltson craned her neck to look as well. “Which one?” she asked.
“That one, there,” Hope said. “See, he’s looking over here again. His name’s William Knight or someth…”
Before Hope could finish, Tara turned toward her with the expression of one discovering something infested with maggots. “Oh, my God, that kid is so fucking creepy!” Tara said. She was capable of slipping the F-word into any conversation—her childlike expressions and tiny voice adding a shock-value to the word that would blush a rap star.
“You don’t know who that is?” Jennifer said, brandishing her knowledge with a self-satisfied flourish in her voice. Jennifer’s mother was the school’s secretary, a woman that lost all tact when speaking around her daughter, facilitating a running encyclopedia about every student in the school—and most of the staff, for that matter—a treasure-trove of gossip on anyone from the principal to the meekest of students. “That’s William Dey.” She paused a moment, just to allow the information to sink in for her tablemates. It didn’t sink in for them, so she added, “The Dey murders? Hello?”
“Really?” Hope gasped.
“You mean that guy that buried his wife’s head in the back yard?” Tara said.
“Yup,” Jennifer said with her air of self-importance.
“I thought the kid was sent away with family. Why would he come back?” Tara said.
“His stepfather or adopted father or whatever tried to kill him. So they had nowhere to go but back here. They still owned the house. I mean, who would want to buy it?”
“Tried to kill him?” Tara huffed. “A family of fucking psychos, apparently.”
“That’s just what I’ve heard,” Jennifer said—she didn’t need to state her source.
“Why are you asking about him?” Tara asked Hope, peering over her shoulder again at William Knight. “He keep fucking staring at you or something?”
“No,” Hope said. “He’s in my math class. Just wondered who he was.”
Continued in: Earworm: Part 7 — I’m William Knight