I wrote this story as a Christmas present for my daughter. It has never been submitted for publishing.
The Room at the End of the Hall
Michael “Mac” McAvoy
“Margaret!” I heard my mother calling from downstairs.
“Margaret, you get to bed now dear."
I didn’t answer. I was already in bed and drifting off to sleep when she called.
This time I answered.
“I am already in bed mother,” I yelled down the stairs. This is an old country house with tall ceilings and it took a pretty good shout to be heard from all the way upstairs.
“I’ve been in bed for twenty minutes and have already fallen asleep twice!” There was no answer so naturally I thought she understood and went back to whatever it was she was doing.
Just as I was falling asleep for the third time, my mother burst into the room.
“Margaret darling, call 911. Tell them... tell the police we have a prowler in the house.”
This really scared me. It was the tone of her voice. It was calm, way too calm. She clearly wanted me to understand that this was no joke. She wanted to be taken seriously, not like when she tells me to clean my room or something. No, not this time.
I picked up the phone on the nightstand and with a cold, shaking hand carefully dialed. The operator asked my name and address.
“All right” I said, “my name is Margaret Stowe. I live at... I live at...” Oh no, I could not believe it. “We have only lived in this house for a few days and I haven’t yet memorized the address.” I began to panic. Tears started down my cheek and I began to cry hysterically.
“Where is my mom, why hasn’t she come back?”
“It’s okay honey," the operator said. “I have your address on the screen in front of me. I got it from the database and I have officers en route.”
Over the phone I could hear her talking to someone, maybe the police officers.
“I have a 412B in progress at 21679 South Street, Highway 13, child on the phone is eleven years, mother in the house, location unknown, father deceased.”
I was sitting on my bed, cradling my stomach with both arms, rocking back and forth when I heard the gentle squeak of my doorknob. I choked down a scream and dove behind my bed. The door creaked slowly as it opened.
“Please hurry ... please!” I gritted my teeth as I whispered into the phone.
The 911 operator kept asking questions. “Is the intruder in your room? Does the intruder see you? Are you all right? Are you all right?!”
She spoke quickly and loudly and I was afraid that whoever was in the room with me would hear. I covered the receiver with my hand but could still hear her frenzied voice. I wanted to tell her to stop talking, that she might be heard but was too afraid.
I was just about to hang up; I had my finger on the off button when I heard my mother’s voice.
“Margaret”, she whispered. “Margaret, are you in here?”
My heart gave a strong thump and began to beat more slowly. “I’m behind the bed, mother!” I leapt from my hiding spot and threw my arms around her.
Over my sobbing, I heard the sirens outside, a stumbling of feet and a crashing sound from the front room.
Mother went to the window. “Looks like they’ve got him!”
“Hello? Margaret, are you okay? Hello? Hello?”
Mom picked the telephone up off the floor. “Yes, they’re outside, now. Yes, thank you, we’re a little shook up but we’re fine. Thank you so much. Good-bye.”
As mother talked with the operator, I stood at the window. The man was standing in the front yard talking with the police. They were all standing and laughing and patting each other on the back. An officer pointed towards the house and they all began laughing again.
An officer put his hand on the man’s head and as he lowered himself onto the back seat of the patrol car, he turned towards me and gave a somewhat ashamed looking smile. At least I think it was a smile. His face didn’t look normal. It wasn’t gross or anything, just sort of sad looking. Like he wasn’t very bright.
That night I slept in my own bed for a whole five minutes. My mom’s bed is much more comfortable on nights like these.
The next morning I awoke to the sun shining, the birds singing, and the wonderful smell of my mother’s cooking. Man, I hate it when a morning is just too cheerful.
“This can mean only one thing,” I said to myself out loud, “Something dreadful is going to happen”.
“Margaret, wake up!” my mother yelled from downstairs. I guess it’s one of her favorite pastimes or something.
“Breakfast is ready and you don’t want to be late for your first day”.
I let out a loud groan and pulled the covers up over my head. Starting at a new school has always been one of my favorite things to do ... not! “I miss dad.”
When I left the school’s main office it must have been between classes because the hallway was packed. I had never seen so many students in one place before. This school was much larger than any I had attended and I had attended a lot. My father was an engineer. Always building a new something or other and when he moved, we moved.
Some kids were in a straight line with a teacher behind them, but most were just milling around, talking and laughing and getting things from their lockers.
I walked up to a group of kids that had gathered near the water fountain. One of the boys was telling a joke and even though I didn’t understand the punch line, I laughed like everybody else. It must have been a very funny joke because they were all chuckling and giggling and repeating the last few words.
In the midst of all the hysterics I asked, loudly enough to be heard, “Does anyone know where I can find locker number 1313?”
The laughing stopped so suddenly and the entire hallway got so quiet I thought for a moment that maybe I had gone deaf. One boy was glaring at me with his mouth wide open and another scrunched up his face as if smelling something awful. A girl about my age, but who looked like her parents had a lot of money, leaned toward her friend and whispered something and the lot of them started laughing again and walked off in separate directions.
I decided to ask a rather strange looking man that was pushing a broom. He sort of walked funny, almost with a limp and the broom looked as if it was there to hold him up rather than for cleaning.
“Excuse me sir, could you please tell me where I can find locker number,” I looked at the piece of paper in my hand, “locker number 1313?”
He took the piece of paper out of my hand, gave it back and motioned for me to follow him, all the while never uttering a sound.
We walked for what seemed like forever but finally reached a corridor way out past the cafeteria. The strange man pointed into the hall and walked away, still without saying a single word.
The hallway was dimly lit, with a small stretch of lockers and a door at the end. Standing at the entrance was a small boy, a couple of years younger than me, I suppose, looking gloomily into the hall. I walked up to the boy and smiled.
“My name is Margaret. I am new here. What is your name?”
The boy didn’t even look in my direction. It looked as though tears were welling up in his eyes. His fists were clenched tight and he was shaking all over!
By this time a bell had rang, clearing the halls, leaving me alone with this frightened little boy.
I reached out to put my hand on his shoulder. Just as I was about to make contact ... he jumped and ran into the poorly lit hallway, raced through his locker combination, snatched some books, slammed the door shut and ran past me, yelling and leaving a trail of old papers floating through the air.
“What kind of place is this?” I said looking around but not expecting an answer.
I had just pulled out the piece of paper with the combination written on it and began dialing the knob when I heard a peculiar noise. It was kind of a moaning sound, soft and quiet, like someone was ill. I shook it off and began putting things away in my locker.
I am rather fussy about the way my belongings are organized. My mother says it is because I am an only child. I say it is because my mother is disorganized and can never find anything. Besides, I wasn’t like this before my father died. Once I overheard the family therapist telling mother that it was just my way of taking some control over my life.
“Don’t worry,” he said to her, “we all need our illusions.”
“I like my books neatly stacked and separated by subject, pencils and pens on top, coat hung on the left, backpack on the right,” I said to myself as I worked. I reached into my book bag and pulled out the one belonging I just couldn’t do without; Baby. Baby was a rag doll my father had gotten me long ago. I was just a baby myself and don’t remember anything about it but mother had told me that I was very ill at the time. Apparently it was the first time I had been sick so father took off early from work to be with me. On his way home he passed a small gift shop and saw this rag doll in the window. He thought she might cheer me up. Little did he know she was to become my eternal companion. I didn’t normally bring her to a new school. She was worn and dirty and when I was just a baby I had chewed off all her hair; leaving just brown stubble dotted across her head. I didn’t really want anyone to know I still carried her with me but I needed to feel that father was near.
I was taping a picture to the inside of my locker door when my curiosity got the best of me.
“I’ll bet the moaning is coming from that room at the end of the hall.”
It was the only room around and just a few feet from where I stood. As I began to walk towards it, the moaning became louder... and more frightening! It seemed that the nearer I came, the louder it became. I was scared but could not help myself. I had to know who, or what, was making that sound. I hunched under the window, which was not your regular classroom window. No, this one was very small, with that wire stuff running through it that keeps glass from flying everywhere when it is broken.
The moaning continued as I tried to gather the courage to peek inside. I slowly rose up, just enough to get a glimpse but from that angle I could only see the ceiling tiles inside the room. My heart pounded in my chest and I started feeling faint.
“Well, it’s now or never.”
I leaped up, pressed my nose to the glass and saw... nothing! Not a single person. There was a rocking chair, a couple of tables and some folding chairs. No desks or really anything you would expect to see in a classroom except for a chalkboard with a few color chalk drawings. There were mats on the floor and a few blankets and quilts tossed here and there. The large room divider was covered with drawings, the kind you might see on a refrigerator.
As I stood there on my tiptoes with my nose pressed to the glass I realized the moaning that had drawn me here had stopped.
“Am I that nervous about being at a new school?” I giggled and was about to turn away when ... BOOM!
A hideous face slammed against the other side of the glass. With large, yellow teeth jutting out in every direction and bulging, bloodshot eyes, it started to laugh. I was terrified and frozen in place. I couldn’t move. That face just kept laughing it’s ghastly laugh. I wanted so much to tear myself away but couldn’t.
The fear that had gripped my mind so rigidly turned to terror as I flung my books into the air and ran as fast as I could.
The horrible laughter turned to a sort of scream and became more and more difficult to escape. I ran down this hallway and that, randomly turning corners, desperately trying to escape. I started to run up a flight of stairs when I dropped from exhaustion. My sides ached and I felt like I was going to throw-up.
The screaming had stopped. I shakily got to my feet and was climbing back down the stairs when I realized ... I was lost!
After wandering for what seemed like forever, I saw a man in a small room. I guess it was his office but it looked pretty small. I peeked inside and found him talking with a girl, who seemed about my age. I knocked on the door and asked for help.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” I began, “but I guess I’m lost.”
“Not at all,” the man said, “We were just finishing, come on in. I am Mr. Chitawah and this is Hannah. Hannah,” he said as he gestured toward me with an open hand, “this is Margaret.”
The girl looked at me with a weird sort of smile.
“I know who you are. You’re the new girl. The one that everybody says has a locker down the...”
“Hannah!” Mr. Chitawah cut her off, “That will be all!”
Hannah’s smile turned to a scowl but as she turned away from Mr. Chitawah and headed for the door, she grinned at me and winked.
“Hannah!” Mr. Chitawah said (again), “wait out in the hall please.”
“Uhg”, Hannah groaned, “These teachers see everything!”
I liked Hannah right away.
Mr. Chitawah asked me to sit down. Since I was still feeling pukie and now a little dizzy, I gladly took a chair. Mr. Chitawah seemed like a nice enough teacher but I really wasn’t in the mood for his third degree. He asked question after question and I answered them, one at a time.
“Yea, I like the school okay” I answered, “No, I haven’t made any friends yet.” “I don’t know if I like my classes, since I haven’t made it to any of them yet.”
He fidgeted with a stack of papers on his desk, “I hear you had some trouble at your place last night.”
“Yea, it was really scary! This guy was in our house and I couldn’t find my mom and..., hey, how did you know?”
“Oh, that was just old Jake. He grew up in that house, you know.”
“Yes, he did. His family built that house way back when this town was nothing but farmland with dirt roads.
“I still think it’s pretty creepy. What was he doing in the attic?”
“Well, you gotta’ understand. He and his mother were dirt poor after his father died. Jake never did quite understand what was happening when she sold the farm. He’s a little slow.”
“So why was he in the attic?”
“Yea, this isn’t the first time tenants have called the police on old Jake. I guess he just doesn’t quite understand that the house doesn’t belong to him anymore.
I shook my head and smiled, pretending to understand.
Then he asked the question I knew he had been wanting to ask.
“So, Margaret, how did you end up at my office and all out of breath and shaking?”
I really didn’t feel like talking about it, especially to a complete stranger, so I clutched my stomach and pretended not to hear.
“Ohhh,” I groaned, “I don’t feel very well. May I go to my class now, please?”
“Of course you can, sweetheart.” Mr. Chitawah was looking at me with an expression of disbelief, “Hannah, come in here please. Would you escort Margaret to her classroom and explain to her teacher that she was with me?”
“Oh man, do I have to?”
Mr. Chitawah gave Hannah another one of those looks. Hannah rolled her eyes and kicked at a small piece of scrap paper on the floor.
“Come on, lets go!” she said, kicking the piece of paper into the hall.
Hannah was a little shorter than me with red, fiery hair and freckles all over her face and arms. She had a large bruise under one eye and scrapes on both her knees.
“You really don’t have to walk me to my room.” Although I was really hoping that she would.
“Oh, I don’t mind.” She said, “I just didn’t want Mr. Chit to think that I was happy about doing him a favor.”
“What is it with you two?” I asked, “You really don’t like him, do you?”
Hannah cocked her head in surprise. “Mr. Chitawah? He’s my favorite teacher. He has those deep brown eyes and that jet-black hair. He’s a Native American, you know. His real name is Black Bear and he’s...”
“You have a crush on him!” I blurted out without thinking.
“A crush!” Hannah shouted. “He’s a teacher, and all teachers are the enemy. Now, if he weren’t a teacher, well then...”
We both laughed hysterically as we walked together down the hall.
When I arrived at my classroom, it was very late. I looked in through the window and saw my teacher in the front of the room speaking and writing on the chalkboard. I groaned and started to walk away. Hannah grabbed me from behind by both my shoulders and turned me back towards the door.
“You’ll be fine.” She said and walked away, giggling.
“Hey! You’re supposed to...” but she had already turned the corner and was gone.
I entered the classroom and was surprised to find that Mrs. Olson was not angry. She introduced me to the class and showed me to my desk. I could hear a few students snickering under their breath.
I was speechless. There, sitting on my desktop, were my books. The very same books that I had flung into the air were now neatly stacked and sitting on my desk.
“How in heaven’s name did these get here?” I must have said this out loud because the entire class roared with laughter as if I were the butt of some practical joke.
My face grew hot with embarrassment as I sat down in my seat.
“Now class,” Mrs. Olson shouted, “lets have some manners, shall we? Margaret, we were just about to have a spelling contest. Would you like to participate or would you rather familiarize yourself with the workbook?”
I chose the book. I had been embarrassed enough.
I started flipping through the pages but was focused on a spot far beyond the book. I started thinking about my Dad and how embarrassed he must have felt. I imagined how everyone in his office must have looked at him weird and talked behind his back about the cancer. I remembered one night when he came home from work. He looked like he had been crying, and strained to put on his ‘happy face’. I hated the ‘happy face’, it wasn’t real and I knew it. He took me outside to have a catch, but watching him labor about, trying to keep up, made me sick with worry. I guess, at the time, I knew he was going to die. In fact, we had a long ‘family’ talk but it didn’t make me feel any better, if it was supposed to.
I was a long way off and not really paying attention to the contest or my book when a piece of paper fell from my book to the floor. I thought this was odd, since it was a new book. Used books can have all sorts of icky stuff inside them; boogers, blood, old broken hearted love notes, swear words, you know what I mean.
As I reached down to grab it, the boy in the desk next to me snatched it from the floor and stuck his tongue out at me.
“Boys!” I said out loud.
His lips moved as he read the words to himself and when he finished, he turned and looked at me with a dopey sort of face, shrugged his shoulders, and handed the paper back.
I was just about to unfold the paper and read it when I noticed the spelling contest had stopped. Mrs. Olson, along with the rest of the class, stared at me with a look of impatience.
I placed the paper back in my book and began to pay strict attention to the contest. I thought it best to wait until after class to investigate the piece of paper.
I gazed at the clock, almost as if hypnotized, as I waited for class to end. Mrs. Olson was, now, rushing the students through the spelling ‘thing’ so that we, as she put it, “would not be belated for the mid-day feast.”
The students and I looked at her with confused faces.
“LUNCH!” she said in a stern voice.
I think she is weird but I never cared much for English class.
Finally the bell rang. Students leaped from their seats and ran for the door.
“I guess I’m not the only one who doesn’t like this class,” I said out loud.
All the while, Mrs. Olson was yelling something about a term paper that was due the next day. I made sure and not make eye contact with her, a trick my Dad taught me. I didn’t want to know anything about homework at this point.
As soon as I entered the hallway I opened the piece of paper. It was written on a piece of my stationary. I had put a box in my locker as I had done at all the schools before here.
The note read;
“Monsters, monsters, here and there
Monsters, monsters, everywhere
In your closet and under your bed
Where do you see them?
Just in your head!”
The blood that was in my face had now drained to my feet. I must have been white as a ghost. I slid down the wall into a squatting position on the hallway floor.
“You look like you’ve just seen a vampire,” I heard someone say. “No, scratch that. You look like a vampire.”
It was Hannah!
“Hannah, I’m so glad to see you!” I jumped up and threw my arms around her, as if we had been friends since birth.
“Yea, I can tell. Now, do you mind? I can hardly breath with your arms around my neck. Besides there are boys around, you know.”
I told Hannah the whole story. All about the moaning and the screaming and the running. I babbled on about the man in my house and the hideous face and throwing my books and getting lost.
The entire time, Hannah just stood there with a silly looking grin on her face.
I told her about my books mysteriously showing up on my desk, and then... I paused for a moment to catch my breath, and said, “You must think I’m cracked.”
“Well, yea I do,” she said, “but everyone knows about that room, everyone but you, that is. We’ve all heard the stories.”
“Yea, the stories”, Hannah went on. “Students disappearing without a trace, blood seeping onto the hall from under the door, the smell that comes from that room, so bad that it could only be... Well, you get the idea.”
“That’s just crazy talk.”
“Oh yea, well... okay. I made up the part about the blood, but the rest is true. I swear, I pinkie swear!”
“This is crazy. Why doesn’t anybody do something? Why don’t the teachers...”
“The teachers?” Hannah shrieked. “The teachers are all in on it. You know, one of the older kids told me that if a kid makes a teacher really mad, they’ll move him to that room...for good!”
Just the thought made my stomach sour. “Well, one thing’s for sure. I’m not going to mess up at all. I’m going to do my homework every night and study and listen in class and...”
“Whoa, slow down girl. Do you want to make the rest of us look bad?”
We both chuckled at the thought.
“Oh hey, take a look at this.” I unfolded the note. “I found it in one of my books.”
Hannah took the note and held it close to her face. She squinted at it for a second and then dropped it to the floor and said, “Okay, this is weird!”
That night, at the dinner table, I wanted so much to tell my mother of the incredible events of my first day but she had started a new job and from her expression I gathered it didn’t quite go as planned. I was afraid if I brought it up while she was in this mood she would give me the old “new experiences can be traumatic” speech and I really wasn’t in the mood. Mother had been trying to pretend that she was strong; moving on with life. But I knew better. The death of father was still aching inside us both. I spent many sleepless nights listening to her cry in her bedroom. I don’t think she knew I could hear. Sometimes I would pretend to have a nightmare just so I could crawl in bed with her; hoping she wouldn’t feel so alone. This was one of those nights.
The next day, as I walked towards that hallway I could feel my body beginning to tense up. The image of that face began to fill my brain and every step I took echoed inside my head. Time seemed to slow. A mass of students had gathered along the walls, apparently to see me walk to my death or something. I stopped at the corner and huddled against the wall as I cautiously poked my head into the corridor listening for even the slightest noise. All was quiet. Even my spectators were completely quiet and motionless. The only sound to be heard was an occasional rustling of paper or a quick, sharp sniffle.
I stayed tight against the wall as I tiptoed towards my locker. Being careful not make even the slightest noise, I grasped the lock in my hand and slowly turned the dial. It made a creaking noise as it turned in my trembling hands. I stopped cold and cocked my head to listen; all was still quiet. Little by little, I opened the squeaky door. The more slowly I opened it, the louder it squawked. I stopped for a moment to think.
“Do I really have to have these books?” I whispered to myself. “I could tell Mrs. Olson I left them at home. I could tell her my dog ate them; no, I don’t have a dog. I know; they were abducted by aliens!” I shook my head and giggled even though I was absolutely terrified.
Knowing all too well what I had to do I drew a deep, quivering breath, placed a firm grip on the locker handle and threw the locker door open. I snatched some books, slammed the door shut and ran, yelling and leaving a trail of old papers floating through the air; never stopping to listen for the monster.
The next few days were rough. I was determined never to step foot in that hallway again. I carried all my books everywhere I went. My book bag weighed a ton and I was afraid my shoulder would be permanently disfigured from the constant muscle cramps. Worst of all were the monsters! I was seeing monsters everywhere; under my teacher’s desk, in the empty seat next to me, even lurking behind the coats in the coat rack! They weren’t at all easy to see though. Only vague shapes feeding off the darkness of shadows and dimly lit rooms. They would appear out of nowhere and always just in the corner of my eye. When I looked straight at them; they simply weren’t there.
I was just coming back from gym with the rest of my class when I saw another strange thing. Over the shoulder of the boy in front of me I saw a man leaving our classroom. He hung his head low as he silently closed the door and turned to walk away but I would swear it was the man that was in my house. I didn’t get a look at his face but it was the way he moved and the way he walked; it just couldn’t have been anyone else. Our teacher either didn’t seem to mind or she simply didn’t see him at all because she didn’t say a word about it. Of course, as Hannah would have reminded me, she is a teacher and all the teachers were a part of the conspiracy! Maybe this is why I wasn’t very surprised to find another note.
This time the note was in my desk; folded neatly into a football shape, the kind used by kids on a tabletop. Mrs. Olson was droning on about conjunctions or some other proper grammar thing so I decided to open the note.
“Monsters, monsters, never you mind
Monsters, monsters, maybe in front, maybe behind
In your school and in your house
They can see you running like a mouse
You think you see them but they are not there
You think they are trying to give you a scare?
THEY WOULDN’T DARE!!!
I could feel my lunch trying to creep its way back up and I started feeling dizzy. I slowly glanced around the room, almost as if I had gone into slow motion. Blurry faces looked at me with wide, confused eyes. The room went dark and I could feel myself falling; but I never hit the floor. I toppled, head over feet and feet overhead, turning and spinning as I fell into the deep blackness…until…oomph! I landed on solid ground. Slowly I stood on shaking knees and looked around.
“What is this place?” It was dark and cold. There were trees all around me; giant, towering pine trees casting shadows from the nearly full moon that danced all around me. I turned to find a locker, a single locker standing with me in a peculiar clearing in the middle of the woods. It looked as though it had been through a fire and dropped out a window. It was all dented and covered with mud. Without thinking I reached up and began scraping the number plate with my fingernail.
“One…three…one…” I jumped as something caught under my nail, causing the tip of my finger to bleed. I put the bloody finger in my mouth and reached up with my other hand, “three…thirteen-thirteen! This is my locker! I shook my head and moaned as if this would somehow make it all go away.
A gentle, cold breeze blew past me, chilling the inside of my bones. I heard a faint voice coming from inside the locker. I watched as the shadows from the pine trees trembled on the locker door and cocked my head to listen.
“Margaret, help me” I heard in a frail voice. It was Baby! I placed my hand on the latch and cautiously began to open the door. I cracked it just a bit to peer inside when a strong, twisting wind blew dead leaves from the ground and whirled them up all around my body, blinding me. It was like being caught in a tornado of leaves and dead grass. I covered my face but could feel the prickly edges biting at my hands. After the leaves lost their momentum and fell powerless to the ground, I found myself inside the locker.
Frantically I jostled the latch mechanism but it was stuck tight. I could hear rustling leaves and the snapping of twigs coming from outside. I pulled myself up and looked out the small vents in the door. The monsters were back and this time I could see them plain as day. There were large ones and small ones. One of the monsters had wheels instead of legs. Another had a face that looked as if it were melting off its scull and another had long, tapered wooden sticks for arms and looked a little sad. But they were all very scary with large, pointed, yellow teeth and bulging eyes. They began wildly flinging their arms and jumping up and down as they formed a circle around the locker. My arms grew tired and I let myself drop to the floor. As I sat there I could here the monsters chanting. The chanting was very strange sounding; kind of slurred like they had just come from the dentist. I was rocking back and forth with my arms folded in front of me when I realized what they were chanting;
“Monsters, monsters, here and there
Monsters, monsters everywhere
In your closet and under your bed
Where do you see them?
Just in your head!”
It grew louder and louder, pounding in my ears and filling my head. And then suddenly…it stopped. All was quiet again. I sat very still; listening for even the slightest sound but there was nothing. I was thinking of getting back on my feet and opening the door when I heard the crunching of leaves and the snapping of twigs. The sound grew louder and seemed to approach this horrible, small metal prison. The handle on the locker began to move; slowly and quietly like I wasn’t supposed to notice. The door began to open. I closed my eyes and covered my face.
“Margaret?” A soft, gentle voice said my name. I peaked up through my hands.
“Dad!” I leaped into his arms. The air around us grew warm as the sun began to rise over the trees, melting away the shadows.
“What’s troubling you so; monsters in the dark; shadows and noises in the night? He knelt on the ground as he held me tightly in his arms and caressed my hair. I sobbed on his shoulder. “Margaret, no one can help you with this one but yourself”. He dried my tears with the handkerchief he kept in his pocket.
“I can’t do this by myself, Dad. These aren’t like the monsters hiding under my bed or in my closet. They are so real. Like nothing I have ever seen. I’m so frightened”.
“A very wise man once said; ‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself’. Look deeper and you will see that they mean you no harm”.
“Then they do exist? I’m not crazy?”
“No sweetheart, you’re not crazy, just a little confused is all. Now, close your eyes”. Suddenly we were in my bedroom. He knelt by my bed and ran his hand down over my eyelids. “When you awake; look for me here.” I felt him place his hand softly on my chest. “Margaret, my heart beats with your heart.” And then he was gone.
The school nurse was standing over me when I opened my eyes.
“You gave us quite a scare.” She was holding my wrist and looking at her watch. “Your mother is on her way. She’s going to take you to the doctor and then home for the rest of the day.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. “Just a dream” I said quietly to myself. I laid my head back on the pillow and waited for mother to arrive.
That night Hannah came to my house with her mother. I guess she and mom knew each other from work.
“You okay?” she said poking her head into my bedroom.
“Yeah, I guess so but this is really freaking me out!”
She looked around the room with wonder in her eyes.
“Man, you are really a neat freak aren’t ya?” She poked at some books on the shelf and tilted her head to read the titles.
I told her of the second note and of my secret doll trapped inside the locker.
“I have to get her out of there” I said sounding desperate, “If anything happened to her…”
“Yeah, okay, okay. You can’t go on like this anyway, you might explode or somethin’.” She said smiling. “But listen, I’ve been thinking about this all day and I think I’ve come up with a plan…but we’re gonna’ need some help…”
Hannah grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil off the nightstand and we plopped on the floor to draw out our plan.
The next day on the playground Hannah introduced me to her “troupe”, at least that’s what she called them. They were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with there hands clasped behind their backs, staring straight ahead without blinking, almost like soldiers. I didn’t realize at the time that Hannah’s father was in the military; I should have guessed.
One by one Hannah called each of them forward.
“Sneezer!” A small, wiry boy with thick glasses, which made his eyes look way too big for his face, stepped forward rubbing his runny nose.
“Ma’am” he said as he continued to look straight ahead without blinking.
“This is Sneezer” Hannah touted, “he’s a brain that likes to build stuff. He’s into archery and skipping school. He claims school is boring and always jumps at the chance to be creative without the intervention of authority. He’s in charge of inventing a way to keep the door closed during the maneuver”.
“Maneuver?” I chuckled to myself as Sneezer stepped back into line. “This is great”!
“Trish!” Again Hannah hollered into the air. Trish looked cool in a kind of spooky sort of way. She was all dressed in black and had black hair and fingernail polish. She also had the whitest looking skin I’d ever seen.
“Ma’am”, She wasn’t looking straight ahead though, she was picking at her fingernail polish and smacking the gum in her mouth.
“Trish is a witch” Trish raised her head and glared at Hannah sternly. Hannah rolled her eyes and corrected herself, “A ‘good’ witch. She likes to watch scary movies and really loves it when the other students avoid her.
“I don’t like people” Trish moaned. I didn’t quite believe her though; if that were true, why would she be here?
“Trish is in charge of the good-luck spells”.
“Kaleb!” Hannah shouted as she paced back and forth in front of the troupe. A very large African American boy stepped forward wearing a torn football jersey and cleats. “Kaleb enjoys playing football and watching cartoons. He’s a lousy student with a big heart. Kaleb will take the look-out position at the hallway entrance”. Kaleb stepped back in line without breaking his gaze.
“And I, being the bravest”, Hannah beamed, “will take position next to the door; ready to pounce on anything that tries to come out”. She had her fists on her hips and was looking at the sky like she was ‘super girl’ or something.
“Well, that’s us.” She stood with the others, “We’re the unwanted, the outcasts; the black sheep of Hagen Elementary!”
“We’re the Troupe!” They all shouted in unison.
“We’ll meet here tomorrow at the same time” Hannah explained to her friends, “have everything ready. Troupe…dismissed!”
Sneezer was the last to arrive at the playground the next day. He was carrying something that looked like a bow and arrow…but modified somehow.
“Check it out you guys” Sneezer held the gizmo up for all to see. “It has a door wedge in place of the arrow head and fishing line tied to the rear of the arrow and to my wrist for quick retrieval at the close of the maneuver.”
“Yeah? Let me see that thing” Hannah insisted on approving all equipment. “What’s this thing on the bow? It looks like a telescope.”
“That’s the finder scope off my telescope.” Sneezer grabbed it back with a disgusted grunt. “It’s so I can more accurately aim at the bottom of the door.
“Good work soldier. Now, let’s have an equipment check. “Spell book?”
“Check” Trish moaned, snapping her gum and rolling her eyes.
“Fishing net? Oh yeah, I brought that one. That’s a ‘check’. Bow and arrow gizmo?”
“Duh, you just saw it!” Sneezer shook his head looking at the ground.
“And Margaret, you brought the backpack to store the retrieved item?”
“Yup, got it right here” raising the strap from my shoulder. The others chuckled. Hannah sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Uh oh, here it comes” Trish snorted.
“You will address me as ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ soldier!”
“Sorry” I said, making a face at Trish.
“What’s that soldier? I couldn’t here you!” I quickly stood at attention.
“Ma’am, yes Ma’am!” I couldn’t stop giggling, more from nervousness and excitement than anything else.
“Okay troupers, follow me…and stay low”. Hannah led us to a back door near the cafeteria. The halls were completely deserted. We walked quickly but quietly, staying close to the walls and in single file. My heart began to pound as we neared the dreaded hallway. Hannah raised a hand, signaling us to stop.
“Nobody move! Stand completely still; don’t even breathe!” We were hugging the lockers just outside the entrance to the hallway. I could here the swishing of a broom coming our way. I was terrified. The mop-like head of the broom stabbed into the hall just inches from where Hannah was standing and disappeared back into the corridor. Again it appeared, rounding the corner towards us but this time with a janitor at the end of the handle. I silently rolled my head back on my shoulders and closed my eyes.
“Were caught for sure,” I thought to myself, “and we haven’t even started”. The janitor passed us, kicking up dust as he worked his way down the hallway. A cloud of which floated up to meet Sneezer right in the face. His eyes began to turn really red and watery as Kaleb held a finger under his nose.
“Ahhh…ahhh…ahhh” He was trying so hard not to sneeze.
“He’s gonna’ blow!” Kaleb whispered…a bit too loud I thought.
“Ahhh…ahhh…KMMPH!” He held his mouth closed to muffle the sound but blew snot all over his shirt.
“Gross!” Trish grunted.
“Pipe down you guys” Hannah was looking at us sternly. Sneezer just shrugged his shoulders and wiped his hand on his trousers.
“He passed us right by,” I whispered to Trish, “what is he blind or something?”
“Uhhh…yeah, what are you new here or something?” She said winking at me. I looked to see if he had gone. Just as he was rounding the next corner, he paused, turned about half way around and grinned a large, shrewd grin…then disappeared around the corner.
Kaleb took his post at the entrance.
“Remember, three short whistles if somebody comes” Hannah directed. Kaleb gave her a sharp salute and crouched at the corner.
Trish opened her book and began uttering words I didn’t understand. She danced around me sputtering incantations and tossing flower petals in the air. Her long black skirt flowed behind her, gliding on the air as she plucked a hair from my head and rubbed it in the snot on Sneezers shirt. She closed the hair inside the book and stood completely still, looking up towards the ceiling and speaking these words:
Earth wind and sky
Better friends never had I
Look on us with mercy
Help us to prevail
Breathe into us your wisdom
And never shall we fail
With a smack of her gum and a roll of her eyes she leisurely walked over to where Kaleb was crouched and planted herself on the floor.
Sneezer marched to the center of the entrance, knelt on one knee and pointed the arrow wedgy thing down the hall. He peered through the finder scope, scrunching his eyes into a tight squint.
“One shot” he mumbled, pulling back on the bowstring. With a thud it was off like a shot. It soared through the air like a large billed bird, fist swaying left…and then right. It ricocheted off the wall and skidded under the door, wedging itself in tight.
“YES!” Sneezer punched his fist into the air in triumph. Hannah patted him on the back as she scurried down the hall and into position. With her back pressed tight against the lockers, she held the fish net high into the air and motioned for me to come down.
“Well, it’s up to me now”, I whimpered to the others. I drew a deep breath, locked my fists tight and skulked down the hallway staying tight against the lockers. As I began turning the lock dial I could here the moaning starting again. I looked at Hannah and she looked back at me with wide eyes.
“Hurry…hurry!” Sneezer was whispering loudly from the entrance. “Come on…come on”!
My heart was thumping faster and faster inside my chest. My hands were sweaty and my head was pounding. With a quick spin of the dial I began my combination. “Left to seven”, I thought to myself as I dialed, “right to twenty-three, and…uhhh…left to…left to…” My hand froze. My mind went blank. Oh, I couldn’t believe it! I was this close. “Come on…come on think girl…think”. I began to panic, trying any combination of numbers. “Left to seven, right to twenty three, left to fifteen”. I jiggled the handle. “Left to seven, right to twenty-three, left to twenty-nine”. Frantically I shook the handle, making loud clanging and banging noises.
“No!” Sneezer was now shouting. Kaleb and Trish had risen to their feet and were looking up and down the other hallway and back at me with wide eyes. The moaning was gaining volume now and Hannah’s knees were knocking against each other with small, wooden knocking sounds. The doorknob began to turn slightly, one-way and then the other. Hannah watched in horror, “Come on Margaret!” Her eyes were fixed the door handle. Again it turned, slowly. It made a loud ‘snap’ as it unlatched. The door began to open. We all watched, frozen with fear. The moaning became frantic as the door jammed against the wedge, only opening and inch or so. I let out a large sigh.
“I got it! Left to seven, right to twenty-three, left to thirty-five”! With a ‘clunk’ the locker flew open. Kaleb and Trish were jumping up and down and hugging each other when BOOM! The hideous face slammed against the glass window of the door. The doorknob began to jiggle wildly as the face looked at us in confusion.
Sneezer took one look at the face and let out a blood-curdling yell. He dropped the bow and ran to the hallway entrance and around the corner, still yelling and holding the fishing line in his hand. The wedge was plucked from under the door and bounced violently down the hall and around the corner after him.
Seeing the door was free to open, Hannah panicked. She hollered and flung the fishnet towards the door, hitting nothing, and ran past me like a sprinter.
In a move of desperation, I snatched Baby from the locker and slammed it shut. Hannah was already half way down the hall leaving me to retreat on my own. I whipped around to make my escape but my feet just slid on the floor like it was made of ice or something. I couldn’t go anywhere; I had closed the locker door on my sweater! The door began to open. Frantically I dialed the locker combo, never thinking to simply remove my sweater, but my hands were shaking way too hard. I pulled at my sweater trying to free it from the locker’s jaws but it only ripped a seam. Grimacing and closing my eyes, I turned to face my fate.
The door slammed against the lockers as it opened. My stomach sank as I heard Hannah yelling “Run Margaret, run”! With my eyes mashed shut and my arms cradling my body, I was ready…but there was nothing. All I could here was a faint squeaking noise and the sound of metal bumping up against wood.
“Oh”, Hannah said in a surprised voice.
I opened my eyes, first one…and then the other. I watched in utter shock as a small boy emerged from the room riding in a wheelchair. I rubbed my eyes and looked again in disbelief as another boy emerged from the room, pushing the first boy in his chair. He looked at me and smiled with that face that had frightened me so and then he laughed that horrid laugh, although now it didn’t seem quite so terrible, just awkward and full of excitement. I looked towards Hannah for an answer but she merely shrugged her shoulders and looked at the other two. They shrugged their shoulders back.
He pushed the boy over to a nearby water fountain and picked him up so that he could drink. Holding Baby tightly against my chest, I walked to the open door and peeked inside. A nicely dressed woman was busy putting books on a shelf.
“Hello” she said as she neared the doorway. “Can I help you with something”?
My mouth moved but no words came out.
“Is something wrong”? She came a little closer to the door. I shook my head and chuckled.
“No, actually” I said giving Hannah a stern look. “Everything is just fine. What is this place”?
“Well, why don’t you come in and see for yourself”?
I cautiously entered the room and immediately noticed the man that had been in my house was sitting on the floor playing a board game with an armless child. She was moving the pieces around the board with her feet! In another part of the room a woman was feeding an older child something that looked like baby food. A girl on crutches walked past me and said “hi”.
“What is this place”? I turned to the woman that had invited me in.
“Why, this is the special education room dear” she said with a smile.
Just then, the “monster” came running into the room and latched on to me, giving me the biggest, tightest squeeze I think I had ever felt. I looked around the room again and there were other “monsters” waving and saying “hi…hi…hi”.
“I know many of the children here at school don’t understand what it is we do in here” the woman said, “so we welcome visitors”. She looked around the room with her hands on her hips, “and volunteers”. She winked at me, “feel free to talk to my students. They don’t get many visitors”.
It wasn’t long before I decided to spend my free periods there in that room. Those children had so much love to give and I think that was exactly what I needed. It wasn’t long before the ‘troupe’ had found a new purpose too.
My father was right; there is nothing to fear but fear itself. But I have to admit, fear can be pretty scary.