FeverDreamLand

A Terrorwood Story

*Note: Terrorwood is currently being revised and rewritten. All stories in this project are subject to changes at the author’s discretion.
This story was written around early 2018, and I promise my writing has improved since then.


Chapter 1

Monday Afternoon, 16 September

Picture this:  A typical high school hallway, lined with lockers and filled with posturing teenagers acting like they own the place. Footballs are being thrown around, girls are gossiping and laughing over pictures on their phones, all your favorite stereotypes are present. The school day is ending, and students are either running to catch their bus or milling around waiting for club meetings and team practices to start. This is Terrierwood High School, population 1654 students spread fairly evenly amongst the freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior classes.

That day, I was standing at my locker, trying to remember which classes I had homework in and what textbooks I needed to bring home. My girlfriend, Regina, was leaning against the locker next to mine, playing on her phone and telling me a story about something that happened in her theater class. We had been together for two and a half months, having gone “official” the summer before our junior year. Regina was in a band, that’s probably about fifty percent why I was dating her. Don’t get me wrong she was and is a very cool person, the type that can pull off fire engine-red hair and not look like a poser. I always had the feeling, though, that she liked me more than I liked her.

We got along well, though we did not have the distinction of being Terrierwood High’s first lesbian couple. That honor went to Pam and Tommi, a pair of cheerleaders who graduated three years earlier. From what I heard the two caused a bit of a scandal at first, but by the time Regina and I got together our peers were unfazed by our relationship. Which, you know, progress! Yay!

So there we were, I fumbling through my locker and she talking about a kid who tripped and it was really funny if you were there. I found the textbooks I needed- Pre-Calculus and AP Biology- shoved them in my backpack, and slammed my locker shut. Is there any way to shut a locker that does not involve slamming it? I had tried shutting them gently, but I never trusted the locking mechanism unless I then gave the door a good, hard smack. The trick is that you have to hear the click, otherwise the locker door will just swing open the second you walk away.

My things gathered and haphazardly tucked away in my backpack, I was ready to go.

“Reg, I’m ready to go?” I semi-stated, semi-asked. I tended to be forgetful, and Regina had taken it upon herself to remind me of the important things, like my car keys.

“Do you have your car keys, Sully?” she asked, not looking up from her phone. She was intently applying filters to a picture she had taken of her bass guitar. I never could tell the difference between different filters. They all just looked like shades of sepia-tone to me.

“Yep, they’re in my pocket.” I answered, patting my jeans pocket protectively. You are probably wondering, Sully? Is that really this sixteen-year-old girl’s name? It’s not, obviously. My real name is Sophia, but I never felt like it fit. We watched Monsters Inc in class once in second grade, and the name had stuck with me ever since. I wasn’t mad about it.

“Mm-kay. We’re not going to beat the buses out of the parking lot, let’s just chill here until they’re gone.” Regina had a point; by the time we got to my car, put away our backpacks, and selected an appropriate driving playlist we would have to wait for the buses to leave anyway. I sighed, turning and leaning back against my locker. Realistically we would save time by going to the car and waiting there for the buses to leave, but neither of us were in a rush out of there. Regina did have band practice, but that wasn’t until five and until then all we had planned was homework. We had barely been in school for two weeks, and already had two-plus hours of homework a night. For me it was partly my fault, choosing to take AP Bio instead of Honors Bio, but I’d appreciate the decision later in college when there was one less class I had to take.

Looking down the hallway, I people-watched, searching for someone interesting. There, one bank of lockers down. Every school has the clique of popular, pretty girls, and there was ours. They were a tight group, the six of them. Nikki, Bailey, Monique, Tiff, that one whose name I could never remember, and Eve. Eve was the leader of the group; how could she not be with a name like that?

While the rest were townies through and through, Eve had moved here at the start of freshman year. She was the daughter of the COO of our local Biotechnology company, BioCorps. Whoever came up with the name of the company apparently hadn’t tried very hard, though the locals still managed to shorten the name to a succinct BiCo. The company had embraced the nickname, and now our school was filled with commemorative hoodies, t-shirts, water bottles, and binders emblazoned with the BiCo logo. Most of our parents worked for the company, my own included.

When Eve moved here, we all knew she was destined to be popular. Before moving to Terrierwood she and her family lived in France, where her mother headed the European branch of BiCo. Her mother was promoted to COO and transferred here to Terrierwood where the global headquarters were housed, bringing the family along. To us, Eve seemed incredibly cultured- bilingual and far better dressed than us in our outlet-couture. More than that, she was actually nice, friendly with just about everyone. She was liked by our teachers too, and at the top of our class. She seemed to me like the kind of girl who didn’t need to try to be liked, that state of being must have come naturally to her.

I’m not going to lie, I was jealous of her. Who wouldn’t be? Sixteen and already a world traveler, a shoo-in to any college she wanted to attend, and rich. Honestly, it was the rich part I was most jealous of. My family did well enough, but who doesn’t want to be rich? It just seemed nice.

Regina looked up from her phone to see me staring at Eve and rolled her eyes.

“Really? If you insist on staring at pretty girls who aren’t, y’know, me, you could at least try and be subtle about it.” She sounded annoyed, but a faux-annoyed, not real-annoyed. That’s another reason why I was fine with dating her, she wasn’t the jealous type. Not that I made a habit of creeping on other girls, but still.

Eve was undeniably pretty, with long, curly hair and a sweet smile. I had never seen her wear clothing that wasn’t a shade of pastel, and her jewelry was always perfectly coordinated. All silver or all gold, no mixing metals, with small geometric pendants on long, delicate chains. She carried a backpack like the rest of us, but it was a fancy backpack, some sort of pleather material that shimmered when the fluorescent lights hit it. Even her school supplies were impeccable, a neat series of binders color-coordinated to their corresponding class with matching mechanical pencils.

Alright, perhaps I did creep on Eve more than I would care to admit.

“I’m not staring, I’m people watching. Pretty girls are people too.” I turned back to Regina and winked at her, trying to be smooth. “After all, aren’t you people?”

I was met with more eye-rolling, far more dramatic than last time.

“Mm-hmm, sure. Whatever, like I said, just try to be more-” Regina stopped mid-sentence, staring past me in confusion. I could hear a small commotion behind me when, suddenly, a scream halted all movement in the hallway.

I started, spinning to see what was going on. Eve was still standing with her group, clutching a grey binder bearing the ubiquitous BiCo logo to her chest in terror. Her eyes were impossibly wide, her mouth open in a silent scream. I followed her gaze down to a figure writhing on the floor in agony, wailing in pain and fear. Tiff?

I stepped forward, though there was nothing I could do to help Tiff. She was sobbing and flailing back and forth, clutching her face as she started a high-pitched keening. One quick-thinking student sprinted off to the nearest classroom, calling out for help. The others tentatively crowded around Tiff, wanting to see what was wrong, but also afraid to get too close. Tiff had inadvertently kicked off her shoes, and in her contortions had shoved away her open backpack, its contents spilling to the floor.

Tiff stopped writhing, her chest heaving under a designer sweater. The crowd and I startled backwards as she ripped her hands away from her face, revealing a horror show. Her eyes had completely swollen shut, the flesh around them a stomach-churning patchwork of red and purple skin. A thick, mucus-like substance was leaking out of their corners, the putrid fluid now smeared over her cheeks and forehead. Choking on her own sobs, we could barely make out the two words she repeated over and over…

“Help me!”

◊♦◊♦◊

Monday Evening, 16 September

I stared at the screen of my laptop, unfocused. I knew that I should be writing about the new format for the school lunch menu and how it is designed to guide students towards healthy choices, but one scene kept replaying in my mind. All I could think of was Tiff, writhing in pain in the middle of the school hallway, begging for help.

She did get help, that is. Teachers crowded around her, haplessly trying to both help her and keep other students at a distance. A few people had tried to take pictures and videos of what was going on, but their phones were quickly confiscated. Within fifteen minutes an ambulance and paramedics arrived, and rushed Tiff out on a stretcher. She had stopped wailing by that point and instead begun muttering incoherently to herself.

I took a deep breath, stretching my spine as I leaned back against the cool basement wall. My neck felt cramped, like the excitement had caused my muscles to spasm. I had been checking my social media pages every ten minutes or so, looking to see if anyone had updates on Tiff. No one had heard anything so far, but there was a lot of speculation going on in our class page. The current leading theories were an allergic reaction to makeup, an allergic reaction to a bee stinging her in the face, or that she rubbed her eyes the wrong way with lotion on her hands. None of it rang true to me. Though I had never seen anyone have a serious reaction in person, what happened to Tiff looked too crazy to be an allergy.

Looking up, I watched Regina and her band play for a moment. Regina’s mom had let them turn the basement into a semi-studio, with carpeting on the walls and a permanent set-up of amps. Regina played the bass guitar, and she was pretty good for being self-taught. Her band was called The Simple Concern, a meaningless name, but Regina liked how the words rolled off her tongue. The group had four members:  Regina, her cousin Mary from Fawnbrook- the next town over- Regina’s younger brother Tyler, and a classmate of ours named Lily. Mary played lead guitar and Tyler was on the drums, while Lily sang and occasionally played keyboard, though she only knew a few chords.

They mostly played covers of older songs, David Bowie was a favorite artist of theirs. Right then they were playing Bowie’s song “1984,” a choice that I wholeheartedly approved. I thought that they were a decent band, none of them aspired to be professional musicians so they played mostly for their own amusement. Occasionally they had gigs playing at a classmate’s party or in a school show, but that wasn’t their focus. They played for the fun of it, they had the time and the instruments so why not?

I guess I admired that about them, they were all people who lived in the moment. I’d never been that way, I always looked toward my future. What I will be doing next year, in five years, in ten. What my life will be after high school and college, when society considers me a real adult. I already knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, I wanted to be a journalist. Not a print journalist for a newspaper or magazine, but an online one, doing write-ups for NPR. Yeah, I know NPR is a radio service, but they also have online news articles. That would be my dream job.

But until then, I wrote for the school newsletter. Terrierwood High stopped printing a physical newspaper years earlier at the behest of the Environmental Club. Instead, they had a bimonthly online newsletter that came out the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Our readership was the entire school in a way, the newsletter was sent to everyone’s school emails whether or not they wanted it. We had assessed how many students actually read the newsletter through a poll- also through the email- and received a solid 25% response rate. The number was low but fine with me, I was only there for the experience and a bullet point on my college applications.

Writing for the school meant writing exclusively fluff pieces, columns about lunch menus and new teacher bios. Occasionally we would get something juicy like a rule change in the student handbook, but that was pretty rare. The Newsletter Club met on Wednesdays after school in one of the English classrooms, where we would assign articles or edit each other’s work. I worked on the newsletter with six other students, and since the club was so small we each got to write a piece for every newsletter. We called it Terrier Talk, and as an in-joke always included a picture of a terrier dog somewhere in the newsletter. It wasn’t really that funny, but still cute I guess.

The Simple Concern finished their song with a flourish, Lily laughing after her voice cracked on the final note. She’d had a cold the week before, and still was not fully recovered. That was the beauty of the band not taking themselves seriously, whenever they flubbed during practice they could laugh it off. Regina pulled her bass’ strap over her head and carefully placed it on its stand.

“Ten-minute break, then we’re doing ‘Life on Mars?’” Regina’s bandmates nodded and voiced their agreements, before putting down their instruments and filing upstairs to get water and snacks from the kitchen. They all knew Regina’s house like it was their own, her house was the base of operations for them. Everyone gathered there, ever since we were little kids being dropped off by our parents for playdates. Regina didn’t join the rest of her bandmates, instead dropping down onto the pillow next to me. The walls were lined with them, which was a lot cheaper than buying actual furniture.

“Wow, look at you. We’ve been down here for what, an hour? And you’ve written two whole sentences. Amazing.” I rolled my eyes at Regina’s teasing.

“I can’t believe you’re so chill after what happened to Tiff. I can’t get it out of my head.” I said, idly typing nonsense into my computer then backspacing it away. Regina sucked on her teeth, nodding in agreement.

“Yeah, that was freaky. Like, really, really freaky. Does anyone know what happened?” she asked, reaching over and pulling up the computer tab where I’d been checking social media. I shook my head, scrolling past a few text threads on the subject.

“No, nobody knows. No one’s heard from her or her family yet. I guess she must still be in the hospital, it has only been a couple of hours. I hope she’s okay.” Regina nodded solemnly, before resting her head on my shoulder. She was slightly sweaty from the band practice, and I could feel the dampness through my t-shirt. I pulled up the document I had been working on and fixed a typo in the first sentence. There was a bit of dry skin on my lip, and I chewed on it contemplatively. “What do you think happened to her?”

Regina shrugged against my side, pushing me over slightly.

“I dunno, probably an allergic reaction, I guess. I mean, what else could it be?” she replied, watching me work on the computer. I typed another sentence, then deleted it, and re-typed it again.

“Yeah, what else…”

Mary, Tyler, and Lily stomped back down the stairs, carrying overfilled cups of water that spilled slightly as they descended. Regina stood up from where I sat, taking a cup that Mary offered and quickly downing it. After discussing how they would approach the song for a few minutes, they set aside their water cups and adjusted their instruments. Soon, a bass-heavy version of “Life on Mars” filled the room with its melancholy tune.


Chapter 2

Tuesday First Period, 17 September

“‘…and so, in light of yesterday’s events, we ask that all students be extra careful when it comes to not just food, but also cosmetics, lotions, hair products, and any chemical substances used during science classes.’ Alright, now that that’s done, I need to go print out today’s worksheets. All of you sit tight and look over yesterday’s material, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Ms. Halver tossed the memo she had just read on the desk, before grabbing a slim folder labeled “Lesson Plans – Pre-Calculus” and striding out of the room. The class remained silent while they waited for the door to shut behind her. Once the latch clicked into place, the room exploded into sound. Half of the students rose from their seats, migrating towards friends and forming small clumps of conversation. Most retrieved phones from their back pockets, backpacks, and wherever else they’d been stashing the glassed devices, making sure that they hadn’t missed any important news in the past 10 minutes.

I pulled my own phone from the pocket of my hoodie, dropping it onto my desk and leaning back in an exaggerated stretch. My neck was stiff from last night, I’d stayed up well past midnight attempting to write something for the next Terrier Talk meeting. I’d managed to put down a few paragraphs before giving up, I couldn’t focus because of what happened yesterday to Tiff. The image of her laying on the floor screaming felt like it was burned into my brain, the scene playing over and over again.

Beside me, Lily hadn’t silenced her phone, and I could hear the telltale music of a Candy Crush knockoff. She was obsessed with one knockoff in particular, the game had something to do with building a zoo or aquarium. She tried a couple times to get me to play so she’d get the player-referral bonus, but those games weren’t my style. I’d rather be reading op-eds and breaking news than spending hours on a game whose information would be wiped away the next time I got a new phone.

Lily groaned as her phone played a short, mournful melody.

“Dammit! I almost beat that level too, I’ve been stuck on it for two days!” Lily growled. With a resigned huff she put the phone to sleep, cutting off the music. She turned to me, slouching back in her chair. “I’m bored. Say something interesting.”

I dropped my arms from their stretch, resigned to the fact that the stiffness in my spine wasn’t going anywhere soon.

“Ms. Halver’s announcement was morbid. Did all the first period teachers have to read that?” I asked, pretty sure that I already knew the answer. Lily nodded, shifting uncomfortably in the chair. She was too tall for it and kept sliding around the seat in her loose linen pants.

“Yeah, probably. Nina told me that Tiff’s doing okay now, Jack told her that the doctors were able to get the swelling down around Tiff’s face and now she has to stay in the hospital for observation or whatever.” said Lily. I furrowed my brow at this, slightly confused.

“Nina said that Jack said that? Why would he know?” I asked as Lily had already began reaching for her game again.

“Jack’s dating Nikki now, Luke broke up with her last week.”

“I thought that Luke and Tiff were dating though, isn’t Nikki an old thing?”

“No, Luke was just a close friend of Tiff’s, he was actually dating Nikki. But they broke up, it was like a mutual thing. They’re still friends and talk a lot, which I personally think is kinda weird, but whatever works.” Lily picked her phone back up, turning on the screen. Her game’s tinny music started playing again, irritatingly catchy. I picked up my own phone as well, checking the notifications. Regina had texted me a picture of her bass, filtered like crazy, with a question mark. I texted her back a thumbs-up, she’d probably refilter and text me a few more pictures anyway. She had English for her first period and sat near the back, so she spent most of the time doing band stuff on her phone.

There was also an email from the school reiterating the statement that Ms. Halver read. Be aware of any allergies you may have, if you’re not sure go get tested, never eat food unless you know where it’s from, etc. etc. There was nothing about Tiff directly in the statement, just a throwaway “In light of recent events…” line. Still, the administration’s reaction wasn’t sitting well with me.

A student collapsed in the middle of a school hallway and had to be rushed off in an ambulance. I’d been checking the local paper’s website all morning, but there was nothing about the incident. Same with the local news station. We students all had phones, we all talked to each other, and to our parents. Had not a single person gone to a news outlet? I put my phone to sleep, and nervously turned it around in my palms.

“Did Nina say anything about what caused it? Tiff’s face… thing?” I asked. Lily paused her game, pulling up a messenger app.

“Ummm… One sec… Yeah, well not Nina, but Jackie from my math class said that she thinks it was definitely an allergic reaction. Her mom’s a dermatologist. She said that she saw Tiff using a medical-y mascara tube, like something with science. I guess Tiff gets eyelash extensions and uses a special lash serum. Her eyes just didn’t like something in the serum.” she said, paraphrasing a conversation that appeared to still be ongoing in the app, judging by the three pulsing dots on the left of her screen. I couldn’t help but quietly snort.

“Really? Her mom’s a dermatologist, so now Jackie’s one too?” I asked, teasingly. Lily reached over and smacked me on the arm with her phone, just enough to sting.

“Don’t snark at me, I’m not the one who said it. Jackie probably, like, absorbed some knowledge by osmosis.” Lily said. I reached over and smacked her with my own phone, and she laughed as she vainly tried to dodge.

“Osmosis is just for water, something like knowledge would be diffusion.” I jokingly replied. Lily shook her head and returned her focus to her game, restarting the apparently impossible level.

“Okay, save the science for next period, Miss AP Bio. Lemme beat this level.”

I returned my focus to my own phone, where Regina had sent me three more filtered pictures of her bass. We texted back and forth for another minute debating the merits of each picture when I heard someone whisper-shout for everyone to move. I tucked my phone away back in my hoodie pocket and pulled my pre-calc folder out of my backpack. The rest of the class returned to their seats in a quick frenzy, getting out all of their own math supplies. Lily, unfortunately, didn’t notice the commotion as she played her game. We laughed when Ms. Halver returned and took Lily’s phone, just before she was about to beat the level and unlock the zebra enclosure.

◊♦◊♦◊

Tuesday Second Period, 17 September

I don’t mind AP Biology.

The class is fine, nothing special. I appreciate that if I do well on the AP exams I’ll get some college credit, and from what I’ve heard they really aren’t that difficult, as long as you pay a decent amount of attention in class. I think I pay enough attention that I’ll pass the tests, though I’ll probably be passing them by the skin of my teeth. There are some kids in class who kill themselves studying, but I’ve never been like that. Do just enough to get by, that’s my motto. Besides, even if I don’t pass the test and never get the credit, I’m going to be a journalism major. Failing one AP Bio course won’t be the end of my world.

Ms. Grenier teaches AP Bio, and she’s alright, I guess. She basically just goes through the AP Bio testing guidebook page by page, which in all honesty is probably more productive than trying to really teach the material. As long as we can spit the information back out on the test, that’s what’s really important. That day, we were starting a new group project.

“Alright, guys. Today we’re starting a new group project, take a piece of paper from the basket that’s being passed around, and do not look at it yet. Connor, I saw that, put the paper back and take a new one. You’re going to group up and choose a topic from the list I’m distributing now, you’ll have to do a ten-minute PowerPoint presentation on the topic, hitting all the necessary bulletpoints listed in the included grading rubric. This should be an easy one, just follow the rubric and make your PowerPoints look interesting. Once everyone has a slip, I’m going to read off the groups, okay?” Ms. Grenier said in a bored monotone that gave away just how little she cared.

The class murmured assent, and after another minute everyone had their papers.

“Okay, whose paper says ‘A?’ Raise your hands.” said Ms. Grenier, waiting as three students raised their hands. “You’re a group. Who has ‘B’?”

Ms. Grenier continued in that fashion, going down through the alphabet. Finally, she reached the final letter.

“‘I?’”

I raised my hand and looked around the room to see who I was working with. There was only one other student left…

Eve.

“Sorry, you’re going to be a group of two. Is that good with both of you?” Ms. Grenier asked, to which both Eve and I nodded yes.

We made eye contact and Eve smiled at me, waving her hand a little bit so that her gold bangles clinked against each other. She was always so well coordinated; the bangles matched her necklace, which also matched her earrings. I felt my stomach drop a little bit, group projects made me a little nervous. I didn’t like the uncertainty of them, the hoping that your partners would actually step up to the plate and do their portion of the work. Though to be honest, I was often the one who slacked when it came to getting the information together. I preferred working on the PowerPoints, making them look nice and flow well.

With a few words from Ms. Grenier, my fellow classmates stood up and shifted around the room, pushing desks into little clusters of three. Eve made her way over to me, apologizing as she bumped into someone. After gently pushing through the hubbub, she reached my desk. I hadn’t bothered standing up, everyone had split up away from my desk so I had extra space. Well, we- Eve and I- had space.

“Hey! Sully, right? Like from the movie?” Eve asked, still smiling. I smiled back nervously, cracking my knuckles.

“Yeah, like the movie.” I replied. Eve grabbed the desk in front of mine, rotating it with its attached chair and pushing against my own, making a little island. Dropping her pearlescent backpack on the desk beside her, she sat down and unfolded the paper that listed the prospective project topics.

“M’kay, so what topic do you want to do? I’m personally partial to the evolutionary tree one, where you pick an animal and map out how it evolved. What do you think? We could even do the evolution of, like, terrier dogs. That’d be kind of funny, right?” Eve asked me, and she looked honestly excited about the idea.

“Uh, yeah, sure… Sounds good.” I replied, awkwardly.

“Cool! I tell Grenier!” Eve stood up and went to Ms. Grenier, who agreed to our topic choice. Eve practically bounced back to our desk island and talked about her ideas while pulling out her binder. She’d already started an outline for the project, she must have read ahead in the syllabus. I didn’t even know where my syllabus was, I’d shoved it in my backpack on the first day of class and hadn’t seen it since.

The classroom filled with the buzz of students talking, very few about the actual project. It sounded like everyone was still talking about this morning’s announcement, and how Tiff was doing. It was then that I realized if I really wanted to know what had happened, the answer was sitting directly in front of me, meticulously color-coding a slide outline. Eve looked up at me sheepishly and put down the green pen that matched her green Bio binder.

“Sorry, I was droning on. I’m kind of a dork for evolution stuff. Honestly, my favorite bit is putting together PowerPoints that look and flow really nicely, that’s why I had the outline ready. Do you mind if I’m in charge of that bit of the project?” she hopefully asked with wide, dark brown eyes.

“Yeah. Sure. Sounds good… What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“Well… If you could get together some websites with the info, then we can bring it all together. Are you busy this weekend? This Friday night?” she asked, to which I shook my head no. “Sweet, theeeeen how about we slack off for the rest of class, and be productive then?”

I laughed in surprise.

“Really? I’d pegged you as the type to get all the work done as early as possible.” I said, leaning back in my chair. There was a sparkle in Eve’s eye as she replied.

“Ha, I defy expectations. No one else is working right now, why should we? Besides. the project isn’t due until, what, next Friday? We have a whole two weeks, we don’t have to start right away.” Eve said, writing down our study date in the margins of her outline. I grinned, liking her style.

“Okay, Friday night it is then. I’m surprised you don’t have plans.” I said, teasingly. Eve snorted a little, the sound was endearing and unexpected coming from her.

“Um, we live in Terrierwood, it’s not like there’s much to do. I mean normally I’d go out with the girls, but…” Eve’s face fell, and despite my curiosity I felt bad for bringing up the subject. Though I personally didn’t know Tiff, she and Eve were friends. But though I may have felt bad, this was still an opportunity.

“Hey, sorry to ask, but… Is Tiff, you know, okay? People say a lot of crap, but who knows with gossip.” I asked, in a tone of voice that I hoped was comforting, not pitying. Eve took a deep breath and played with her pen, twirling it between her fingers.

“It’s fine, no worries. I texted her mom and she said that Tiff’s doing a lot better, her face is almost back to normal, but the doctors still don’t know what caused it. She’s gonna be so mad that she’s missing school to recover, you wouldn’t guess it just by looking at her but she’s a huge nerd. Hates missing assignments.” Eve started doodling around where she’d written down our study date, little flowers with long, leafy vines. “It was just… freaky.”

I smiled sympathetically at Eve, and when she looked up at me again that sparkle was back.

“But hey, don’t you go quoting me in the school newsletter, kay? This was all off the record, missy.” Eve grinned as she spoke, poking me in the hand with her pen accusatorially. I flicked the pen away and rolled my eyes.

“Hey, it’s not like anyone reads it. But don’t worry, we would never write about anything real.” I sparred back.

“What? Of course you do. That piece on the nutritional content of tater tots… Hoo, that was some intense stuff.” Eve said through pursed, sarcasm-laced lips.

“Don’t tell me you actually read that? God it was soul crushing just to write, I can’t imagine actually reading it…”

We continued on like this for the rest of class, casual teasing interspersed with writing down ideas for our project. Eve had this innate sense of how to make me feel at ease, and by the end of the period the nerves that I had felt when Ms. Grenier first called out the letter “I” were a distant memory.

◊♦◊♦◊

Friday Afternoon, 20 September

The second incident happened on Friday, just after the school day ended.

I had English last period that day, but I couldn’t focus. I had been working my butt off all week on my AP Bio project, so that I’d have a lot of stuff for Eve when we met up for our study date. Ms. Grenier hadn’t given us another class period to work on the project, so she and I hadn’t talked since we were grouped together on Tuesday. Whenever we passed in the hallway, though, she’d make sure to smile and wave at me. Ever since she moved to Terrierwood I’d thought that she had a nice smile, and the past week had proved that thought correct many times over.

Regina wasn’t in school that day, she had come down with a cold and didn’t want to spread it to anyone else. Her parents were the kind of people to give her that slack, as long as she kept her grades up. She’d texted me a few minutes before I went to pick her up that morning, and honestly I was relieved. I had forgotten that we’d planned on doing a horror movie marathon that night, and she would have been really disappointed if I had cancelled it because of Eve and I’s study date. We rescheduled for Sunday, we’d do homework then watch a few episodes of something from the Syfy channel.

I’d just exited the school building through the main entrance, heading to the front parking lot. If Regina hadn’t been sick that day I wouldn’t have seen what went down, since she usually insisted on parking in the back lot along with the rest of our friends. I actually preferred the front lot since it was closer to the doors, even if it was busier in the mornings.

Terrierwood High had a very dramatic front façade. There were big pillars, a statue of a terrier, a small memorial garden, the whole shebang. The coup de grace were the stairs, a dozen stone steps that were as wide as the building. In the early fall and later spring months they were a popular spot to eat lunch and sunbathe, though I wasn’t one to frequent them. I liked eating my food on an actual table, away from the threat of stray tennis balls thrown by the boys who played foursquare every day.

And yet, there I was that Friday afternoon. Walking down those front stairs, dodging that tennis ball. I swear my head is like a magnet for those things, if I played tennis I’d probably be knocked out daily. It was unseasonably hot, and the cool fall breeze we students had become accustomed to was nowhere to be found. I had stopped at the side of the stairs to take off my flannel and tie it around my waist, revealing the grey t-shirt with a kitten on it I was ironically wearing underneath.

Eve and her group were standing at the bottom of the stairs. The six of them drove to and from school together, now five since Tiff was still in the hospital. I knew from Lily’s daily updates that Tiff had made a full recovery, but was laying low away from school for a bit. After what happened I didn’t blame her, it was traumatic to see, not to mention actually live through. I remember that I noticed that girl Bailey was missing, and they were evidently waiting for her.

The whole group was in the same process as I, shedding layers of clothing and tying up long hair, though I didn’t have that particular issue. Eve was juggling a hair tie and a stack of green, grey, and blue binders, unsuccessful in her attempt to pull back her long, dark hair. She looked up and noticed me staring, her face breaking into that sweet smile. I couldn’t help smiling back, and she raised her free arm to wave at me, giving up on her hair. I remember she was wearing a charm bracelet, and the little ornaments sparkled in the sun.

I didn’t notice what had happened for a moment, and neither did Eve. It was subtle at first, no one was paying attention to girl whose name I could never remember, from here on known as No Name Girl. There were 3 girls standing behind Eve, then there were only two. That was what got my attention, the feeling that something was missing. Like looking at a wall of pictures you’d seen every day of your life, but one day a picture is gone. You can’t immediately identify what’s wrong, instead you feel it in your eyes.

Then, Nikki screamed. I couldn’t see what was wrong, not until Eve turned to see what was happening.

No Name Girl was on her knees half-leaning against the stairs, clutching her left arm to her mouth. Some people have the instinct to run towards a person in pain, to help them. I didn’t possess that instinct, neither to run nor to help. I watched.

If she were screaming the sound would have been muffled by her hand, but as it were the only sound coming from her was a sickening gurgle. Her dark eyes were huge, tears streaming down and carrying away her mascara. The tote bag she carried had fallen onto the ground beside her, its contents spilling across and off the sidewalk. She’d dropped her purple glitter-covered phone onto the ground as well, and it had landed face down. I remember hoping that she had insurance for it, since there was no way it had survived the fall without cracking the screen.

Monique and Nikki were crouched around her, holding their hands out in that awkward way when you want to help, but are also grossed out and don’t want to touch anything. Her mouth and jaw had begun to swell, marred by the same red and purple patchwork skin as Tiff had had around her eyes, her hand desperately clutching as if to contain the spread. Then, suddenly, her hand dropped and vomit spilled out of her mouth, composed of the same thick, putrid, mucus-like fluid that had oozed out of Tiff’s eyes. Monique and Nikki screeched and reared back as the vomit splattered against the concrete, flecks of it staining Eve’s shoes.

Eve hadn’t yet moved, her arm still half-raised from her wave. I couldn’t see her face, but knew the expression that would be there. The same wide-eyed look of fear from when Tiff collapsed. Everything about the affliction was the same, just on No Name Girl’s mouth instead of eyes.

After a communal moment of stunned silence, the students around me burst into action, some calling 911 and others running for help. I just stood there.

Watching.


To be continued…

 

Originally Posted 12 March 2018
Updated 16 April 2018