Chapter 10: Mysteries and mistakes
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
I wake up when Cindy rouses me by giving me a shake and calling, “Wake up, lazybones.”
I sit up and look at Cindy. She’s there on the bed beside me in a pink blouse and jeans. She’s frowning. “Did you get sick last night? I found some traces of vomit in the bathroom.”
Yeah, I got sick, all right. And then I . . . what the hell did happen to me? My memory’s confused. I get up to try to retrace what I did and get to the bathroom door before Cindy exclaims, “Ewww, sand in the bed.” I spin around and head right back to the bed. Yep, there’s sand there, sand from the beach. It’s on my side.
“Are you all right, Jane?” I turn to see Cindy looking worried.
“Ah . . . um . . . yeah, I got sick in the middle of the night. Thought I made it to the toilet in time. Sorry about that.” I got sick, I went into the bathroom and threw up, I came back out, and I heard . . . something. I head to the door and open it, trying to retrace my steps.
“Wait, you’re going out like that?” Cindy’s voice recalls me to the present. I look down, realize I’m only in a t-shirt and panties, and close the door. I turn around, ask Cindy, “You showered yet?”
She nods her head, looks at me narrowly. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look kind of spacey.”
I search for something safe to say while I organize my thoughts. “Never had that much to drink before. You?”
“Me neither,” she replies with her usual smile. “Woke up an hour ago with a headache.”
Which I don’t have. In fact, I don’t feel sick at all. Just very confused.
I go in to take my shower and try to remember what happened while I’m showering. I got sick, heard that sound . . . went outside . . . went down to the beach . . . and there was a guy there? In a suit? No, that can’t be. I must have been dreaming. But there’s the sand in the bed. I walked down to the beach . . . and tore open my toe along the way. I look down at my right big toe. I go down to look at it. No sign of any injury. So I must have got sick, and then imagined the rest. The sand? Maybe one of us dragged it in earlier, I don’t know.
I get out, get dressed, and go down to scarf down some breakfast in a hurry before the school bus comes. While I’m doing it, I remember that Miranda Milan was in my dream as well. I think that makes it a nightmare, by definition. I don’t remember what she was doing, though. And, just as I’m tossing my dishes in the dishwasher, I realize I’m thinking about Miranda without feeling afraid of her. Guess her voodoo curse or whatever it was she did to me wore off.
Still, the dream nags at me. As we head out the door to wait for the bus, I tell Cindy to give me a yell if it comes into sight, and start heading down the walk. I’m going to look down at the beach, anyhow, just to reassure myself. Of what, I don’t know for sure.
I never get there. I look down at the paving stones on the path. One of them has a mark on it. It has a dark mark on it. As if someone had torn open her toe and a drop or two of blood had fallen on it.
As if my mystery of the night isn’t enough, I’m once again sitting in the principal’s office, and I have no clue as to why. Cindy, who disappeared after we went to our lockers, didn’t show up again until the second period, when she announced I was to go to the principal’s office. She whispered to me that she was sorry as I passed her on my way of the classroom. Sorry for what?
Ms. Duncan comes in. She’s a pretty woman when she smiles. She’s not smiling. She sits down behind her desk. I look for any sign of friendliness in her gray eyes. I don’t see any.
Abruptly, she says, “Think very carefully before you answer me, Jane Harris. Are you carrying any weapons?”
What? I immediately respond, “No, ma’am.”
Ms. Duncan isn’t looking any friendlier. “You’re not carrying a knife?”
I turn red, but answer just the same, “No. I’m not carrying any pepper spray, either.”
What is going on? I stand up, all the innocence of the falsely accused supporting me. “Search me if you want, Ms. Duncan. My mother would kill me if I was caught carrying weapons on school grounds again.” Which, however, is not the reason I’m not carrying any.
Ms. Duncan looks a little bit mollified. “Sit down, Jane. If you’re not carrying a knife, why would someone think you are?”
I shrug. “Beats me.”
Ms. Duncan shakes her head, but I get the impression I’m over the bad part of whatever this is. “Let’s try this another way. Did you suggest to Cynthia Van Schacht that she carry a knife?”
My stomach turns, because I suspect I know what happened. “Cindy was carrying a knife today?”
Ms. Duncan relaxes a bit. “Let’s stick with you, Jane. What did you say to her about carrying a knife?”
Oh, boy, this is not going to sound good. “Well, we were talking a few days after we both got suspended. I told her how I’d promised you I wouldn’t carry any weapons like I did in Boston.” I halt. I can’t look at Ms. Duncan and tell her the rest, so I look down at my shoes. “But because I never carried a knife in Boston, I said to Cindy I was thinking of doing it, because strictly speaking I wouldn’t be breaking my word.”
In frosty tones, Ms. Duncan says, “Go on.”
I look back up at Ms. Duncan again. She looks as cold as she sounds. But I didn’t do anything! And I say so. “But I never actually did carry a knife to school. That’s it, ma’am.”
“And why didn’t you?”
Bring that up. I might as well confess the truth. “Because if I didn’t want to accidentally cut my hand open, I’d have to carry it in a sheath in my bag, and it would take too long to get it out if I was attacked.”
Ms. Duncan doesn’t immediately reply. She just puckers her lips a bit, as if considering what to say to me. And then I get a horrible thought. A really horrible thought. I burst out, “Did Cindy stab someone?” Ms. Duncan is surprised, but she doesn’t respond. I plead with her. “Ms. Duncan, please tell me, did Cindy hurt anybody?”
She looks at me a bit, as if trying to figure out where I’m coming from, and then quietly says, “No. No one was hurt.”
It isn’t until I fall back in the chair that I realize how tense I just was. Between my mentioning knives to Cindy, and her “voices,” I was afraid I’d gotten someone killed.
Ms. Duncan is still looking at me, but her mind appears to be elsewhere. She gets up, walks over to a window to the side of her desk, and stares out of it for a bit. Without turning to me, she asks, “What kind of weapons did you carry in Boston, Jane?”
“Oh, cutting rings, pig stickers . . . a nail file. Tried wearing a metal comb in my hair, but it didn’t work.”
Ms. Duncan slowly shakes her head, comes back to her desk, and sits down. She takes a few deep breaths. “Your prevarication about knives disappoints me, Jane. I would have hoped for better from you. And I warned you to be careful about what you said to Cindy Von Schacht. You see the consequences. Cindy Van Schacht will be suspended for a week because she listened to you.”
And when Ms. Duncan explains this to Mrs. Van Schacht, she will blame me and I’ll never be invited over again. And she’ll call my mother, and I’ll catch hell from her. But I didn’t do anything! I can’t fight back the tears, and I give up trying. I just let myself cry.
My mother acts weird when she gets home that afternoon. She looks at me as if she’s wondering just what I am. Well, that’s hardly a first. But she doesn’t say anything until after dinner. I get summoned to the bedroom, and Mom closes the door before sitting down on the bed with me. She asks me to explain what happened at school today. I do.
My mother sits there, looking like she wants a smoke. She used to a lot when she was nervous. But after fidgeting a bit, she says to me, “I don’t see what you did wrong. Just because you mentioned knives to the Van Schacht girl doesn’t make you responsible for her carrying one.
“And her mother.” My mother lets out an exasperated sigh. “She calls me up at work to tell me my daughter is making hers into a hooligan! The nerve of some people. Thinks just because she’s rich that she can tell other people what to do. Well, I can do without Letitia Van Schacht, thank you.”
Then it’s like she remembers I’m sitting beside her and pulls me in for a hug. In a calmer voice, she says to me, “I like that principal of yours, Karen Duncan. She said that even though you have your rough edges that you were a positive influence on the Van Schacht girl.” She pulls back so she can look me in the face and smiles. “Wasn’t that nice of her?” She frowns and the anger returns. “I doubt she could say the same about the Van Schacht girl.”
I weakly protest. “Mom, Cindy’s okay, she’s just . . . well, she doesn’t have many friends.” And she’s a little weird. And you actually thought she might have killed someone with a knife. Some friend you are, Jane. I start crying again.
My mom hugs me tighter. “There, there,” she says to me. “The way she acts, it’s no wonder. You’re better off without her, Jane.”
You don’t understand, Mom! I yank myself away and go running for my room, crying all the way. Donna sees me and tries to say something to me but I just rush past her into my room, slam the door, and collapse on my bed.
Someone knocks on my bedroom door. I say, “Go away!”
The door opens, my sister comes in, closes it behind her, and sits at my desk chair. “We need to talk,” she says.
“What part of ‘Go away!’ didn’t you understand?” I reply.
My sister doesn’t answer. She just sits there.
I put aside my book, sit up on the bed. “Well, get it over with.”
“Would it help if I said this situation sucks, sis?”
“Not really, but thanks.”
Donna smiles. “I knew I could count on you for gratitude. So here’s a piece of news you’ll want to know: Mrs. Van Schacht has confiscated Cindy’s phone while she’s suspended.”
Damn. “How do you know?”
“I talked to Maureen.”
Sourly I reply, “I bet she was ecstatic.”
Donna leans back in the chair. “Not as much as you might think. She’s afraid her mother will make her have to do stuff with Cindy again.” Donna shifts her position slightly. “Hey, what’s a suspension worth, this close to the end of the school year? Unless her mom grounds her all summer, you two will be able to see each other.”
Yeah, that’s true. First good thought since this mess started. Still, “School’s going to be a bummer, though.”
Donna shrugs. “Yeah. But it’s only a few days.” She leans forward, so we’re straight-on face to face. “I’m on your side on this one, Jane. So do us all a favor? Go talk to Mom. After the way you stormed out on her, she’s getting into one of her ‘Am I a bad mother?’ moods. You know how she gets.”
“Yeah,” I reply. “Okay. But I’m only doing this for humanitarian reasons.”
I can’t sleep. It’s Friday night. Cindy and I had plans for this weekend. And now they’re zip.
At least I haven’t had to eat alone at school. Meghan Gallagher made it her project to get people to eat with me by sitting with me herself. Everyone loves Meghan. I have to admit I can’t really dislike her myself. I want to be irritated with her for taking pity on me, but I can’t.
And then I hear the sobbing again. It’s out in the hallway. I’ve had enough problems in my life already. I don’t need another one nagging me. So I get up, toss on a bathrobe, and go into the hallway.
The little girl is there. I can’t see much of her in the darkness. She stops sobbing the moment she sees me. In a really eerie voice, she says, “Go away.” And then she changes. She starts to get bigger, taller, scarier, more horrible. I stand it for about five seconds, and then run back into my room and close the door. I jump into bed, not even taking my bathrobe off, and sit as quietly as possible.
Nothing happens. And then I hear something at my door. It sounds as if something is pushing against it. For about an eternity, I stare at the door, waiting for it to come in. I’m going to scream.
Then it just goes away.
It’s past two before I try to sleep.
I get up late Saturday morning, woken up by a yelling match between Freddie and my mom. Great. To the shower, back to the bedroom to dress, to the kitchen to scrounge up breakfast. Mom is being considerate to me, offers to make me an omelet. It doesn’t turn out all that great, Mom’s never been good with omelets, but I eat it without complaint.
Since it’s sunny, I think I’ll take a walk to the library and then to the town beach downtown. This is one of those days when I want people around me, even if I’m not having fun.
I step out the door and walk down the path to the sidewalk. I’m about halfway down to the main street when I get this funny feeling, as if someone’s watching me. I look back toward the house. It’s as if there is something there, standing in front of the house. I can feel it. I can’t really see it, although right where I think it is, things don’t look right.
I shrug and keep walking. But I can’t shake the feeling. I get about halfway to the town common before I look back. It’s still there. And while I still can’t quite see it, it’s closer and bigger. I don’t know what it is, or even if I’m imagining it, but I start walking faster.
I get to the town common and turn around to look again. Although I’ve been walking faster, it’s closer. I still can’t make it out properly. But it frightens me. Suddenly I can’t contain the fear, and I start running
I shoot past the common, probably scaring all the old people I passed. Block after block, and I can feel that damn thing getting closer and closer. And when it catches me . . .
I’m running as fast as I can, and I don’t know how much longer I can do this, when I see Miranda’s shop. I don’t know why, but this is where I need to go. Without even checking to see if she’s open for business, I pull open the door and go shooting down the hall into the first lighted room I can see.
Miranda’s sitting at a table with a crystal ball in front of her. She looks up at me, astonished. There’s someone else in the room, but I don’t care. I dash over to Miranda’s side and shout, “There’s something horrible chasing me.”
Miranda stands up. “What are you . . .”
I interrupt, screaming, “It’s there.” It’s in the doorway I just came through.
Whatever it is, Miranda can see it, too. Her expression turns to anger. She shoves past me and marches toward it, pointing at it and shouting, “You. Get out! Ugh . . .”
The next thing I know, Miranda is hurtling through the air and slams into the wall behind me. She falls to the floor and slumps over, unconscious. And someone’s screaming.
End of chapter ten
(We now pause for a week while you curse Jane’s storytelling abilities and wonder if this is a posthumous memoir. Whether or not, there is another chapter coming.)