During recess, Bobby pushes Julie off the swings.
The gravel scrapes her hands and knees. Not enough to bleed, but enough to hurt. The recess monitor is busy. She hadn’t seen. Julie doesn’t tell on Bobby. The last time she did, the monitor said that Bobby had just been playing around.
“Push him back,” she had said.
During lunch, Bobby drops a worm onto Julie’s tray. Dirt still clings to its body as it wriggles across her tater tots.
During art class, Bobby unscrews the cap of his Elmer’s Glue and pours it over Julie’s head. It drips down onto her glasses and into her eyes. Julie screams. The teacher sends Bobby to the office and takes Julie to the bathroom to try and clean up all the glue.
“That’s just how boys are,” the teacher says, wringing Julie’s hair into the sink.
After school, Julie’s mother wants to know why her daughter’s hair and clothes are wet. Julie tells her all the things Bobby did.
“That just means he likes you,” her mother says. She smiles as she says it. Like she’s remembering something she is fond of.
The next day, during recess, Bobby is playing soccer with some other boys. Julie tells him that she wants to show him something after school. She whispers in his ear that it’s important.
“Ooooh!” the other boys call, as Julie walks away.
After class, Bobby meets Julie on the playground.
“I brought something for you,” she says, reaching into the pocket of her dress. “A surprise.”
“For me?” Bobby looks doubtful. He passes his soccer ball from hand to hand.
Julie’s mother is on her way to pick her daughter up. Julie has to hurry. “Yeah. Hold out your hand.”
“It’s a bug, isn’t it? A snake?”
“Do you think I’d have something like that in my dress?”
Bobby sighs and puts down his ball. He holds out his hand.
“Now close your eyes.”
“C’mon, Bobby. Are you afraid?”
Bobby closes his eyes. Julie takes the shears from the pocket of her dress. They are old, but very sharp. They make a small snkhh sound as she opens them. Julie positions the blades over the tip of Bobby’s pinkie finger.
“This means I like you,” she says.
The spiders come at night.
They gather to watch you sleep, their bodies shining in the moonlight. They cover your floor, your desk, the posters on your walls. The spiders that surround you on your bed must move as one to avoid your tossing and turning. They are a black tide that ebbs and flows by your irresistible pull.
Many hang from the ceiling on webbing. The strands, thin and delicate, sway in the air conditioning. Some of them hang right over your face, as if drawn by your open mouth. These hanging spiders sometimes brush against your closed eyelids and must scurry back up their gossamer strands as you reach for them in your sleep.
You do not wake as the spiders play their game. Not tonight. Just like you didn’t last night or the night before that. This is a game they have been playing with you for quite some time. How much longer the game will continue is uncertain. The spiders are patient, but every game has to end. For now, they wait.
Your parents lie awake in the next room. They, too, are waiting. All parents know about the spider game, but no one expects their own child to be chosen. The odds are so slim after all. Every morning your parents are surprised to see you alive. When you ask them about the strange bite marks you have, they can’t look you in the eye as they change the subject. Your parents wait, hoping tonight will be the last night of the game. It’s the only thing they can do.
Each night three spiders bite you. Only three. Each night a different set. Each of them getting a taste of you before the game truly begins. Just a small sampling to whet their appetites. Tonight’s three scuttle forward. The first climbs onto your slack wrist hanging over the edge of the bed. The second climbs up the leg of your pajamas to get behind your knee. The third climbs into your hair and then through the dips and valleys of your ear to reach the earlobe. Their legs tickle you as they bite down.
Satisfied for tonight, the shadow that blankets your room ripples and fades as the spiders scatter. A cloud breaking apart to reveal the sun. Come morning, the only trace of them will be the three fresh bite marks for you to ponder.
Tomorrow night the game will continue. This is a game the spiders have played for many years. They’ve played it with many children before you, and will no doubt play it with many more children after you.
No one taught the spiders not to play with their food.
I started a personal blog where I post all the stuff that doesn’t fit on this one.* I’m still not sure why. Brain parasites, possibly.
So check it out, and watch as the parasites completely wrest control from me.
*It’s GIFs. It’s GIFs all the way down.
Don’t you love the opening credits?
Sorry. I know you can’t hear me. That’s for the best. I don’t want to ruin what we have going.
See, most people don’t watch stuff when it airs anymore. They record it and watch it later. Watch the show whenever they can squeeze it in–while the laundry spins, when their kid goes down for a nap, during a long, sleepless night. It’s convenient. For them. Me, I need to know in advance when to show up. Me manifesting, it takes a lot of effort.
That’s why I was so happy to find you. You watch it live, every week, like clockwork. Even the reruns! If I could, I’d hug you. You’ve made my afterlife.
Well, my pre-afterlife. I can’t very well ‘move on’ before finding out what happens, now can I? Who knows if the other side gets cable. Not knowing what happens, that would be Hell. So I’m waiting until the end of the season. Then I’ll go. Unless the show is renewed. Then, well … I’ll haunt that house when I get to it.
Sorry, by the way, about how you have to bundle up when you watch the show. That’s me. I cause the temperature to drop wherever I go. Oh, it’s starting back up!
Oh, right. Can’t hear me. And thank God you can’t see me. That would be bad for both of us. If you saw me, even just a shadow of me out of the corner of your eye, sitting here on your couch, watching television with you, I wouldn’t blame you for freaking out. Not a bit.
But if you ever do see me, and you decide to run screaming from your house–which totally wouldn’t offend me, remember, I’d totally understand–just, please, promise me that you’ll leave the TV on when you go.
The upstairs toilet flushes.
You have your hands deep in dishwater, scrubbing. You stop and listen. You thought you had been alone in the house. You had been alone. Upstairs, this uninvited guest–this stranger–is whistling as they wash their hands. The bathroom door opens.
Suds running down your arm, you pick up the telephone and are already dialing 911 when you register the nothing, the silence. The line is dead. Your cell is upstairs, in your room, charging.
The stranger is coming down the stairs. Their footsteps are heavy and they are dragging something behind them. This thumpthump–thump matches your heartbeat.
It’s too late to run. You would meet them in the hallway. You plunge your hands back into the water, searching for and finding the butcher knife. Bubbles slide along the blade still crusted with last night’s dinner.
Knife in hand, you turn to the kitchen doorway, ready to greet your guest.
One of the perks of being the hero is how the villain is always surprised you managed to make it this far.
Villain: Well, well. I’m surprised you managed to make it this far.
Hero: Your foul ambitions stop here, fiend!
Villain: Like, seriously. I can believe you made it that far, but this far–no way. Mind. Blown.
Hero: Okay. Are we going to fight or not?
Villain: I mean, aren’t you surprised? Did you really think, in your heart of hearts, that you’d be standing here in front of me–me, the Demon King!–in your cute little armor? Nice, by the way. Is that mythril?
Hero: I’m just going to start killing you now.
Villain: Because, let me tell you, I didn’t think so. No, sir. Man, the lava moat didn’t even slow you dow–Hey! What are you doing with that sword!?
Let it out, dummy!
They won’t know it’s your first day teaching. No one’s told them; no one tells children anything. They just know they’re getting a new teacher. Not a new new teacher.
Another deep breath.
Let it out, you idiot! God!
Children can smell fear. Be calm. Be cool. Don’t sweat through your blouse. Please, God, don’t sweat through your blouse.
You enter your new classroom. “Good morning, class!”
That was great. Bright, sunny. You totally nailed that.
“Good morning, Miss Pembrooke!” the students answer in unison. The vice principal had written your name on the white board. Good good good.
There is an apple on your desk. Like something out of Leave it to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show. And you were worried. Unless, of course, it’s a wax apple. Or a rotten one with a worm inside. Or perhaps they went old school Snow White and just plan to murder you out right.
Don’t be paranoid. It’s a nice shiny apple. No worms. Please, God, no worms.
Also on your desk is the class attendance sheet. Another gift from the vice principal. You pick it up and look at your new students. So young. So sweet. They can still smell fear, so keep it together.
You read the first name. “Melissica Andrews?” Melissica? Really?
A young girl with black pigtails says, “Here!”
“Axl Beechum?” Wow. Who would name their kid Axl?
A heavyset boy with freckles answers, “Here.” The boy, you must admit, looks like an Axl. Like how people named Ralph always look like they should be named Ralph.
“Adolf Burton?” Must have been a family name. Promise to a dying great grandfather or something.
A scrawny boy in the back says, “Here.”
“Candy … Cane?” Oh, come on.
“Here!” a girl with a squeaky voice says.
The next kid on the list. “Adolf!? Adolf Dahmer.”
“Here,” a boy with blonde hair says.
“You expect me to believe your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dahmer, named you Adolf, Adolf? That there is not one, but two Adolfs currently in my classroom?”
“Actually, there’s three of us,” says the Asian boy sitting next to Greg.
“Yeah. Right. And Axl? What, are your parents big Guns N’ Roses fans?”
“Whoa,” Axl says, eyes wide. “How did you know that?”
“This is all a big joke, isn’t it? ‘Let’s give the new teacher a fake attendance list and make her look like a moron during roll call. It will be hilarious!’ Well, it won’t seem so funny when you all have to stay after school!”
“But, Miss Pembrooke,” Melissica says, “those really are our names.”
“Get real, Melissica. Great choice on a stupid name, by the way.”
“Quiet, Hitler,” you say, turning to the squeaky voiced girl. “And, Candy Cane? If that’s your name, then I’m sorry to say your parents hate you. Like a lot.”
Candy starts crying. You begin to sweat.
He told me to make him a sandwich.
Things I found in his kitchen: a loaf of old, white bread, an onion with a shoot growing from its top, an almost empty bottle of mustard that made a farting noise when squeezed, and a smelly garbage can.
Things I did not find in his kitchen: luncheon meat, lettuce, tomatoes, eggs, cheese of any kind, peanut butter, jelly–slash–jam, or bacon.
So I had to improvise.
The first step was getting his razor from the bathroom. No matter what cut of meat I chose, it would have to be shaved before cooking it. I waffled between thigh or belly, but finally decided on belly. It looked juicier. Or at least fatter. It was also marginally less hairy, so that was a plus.
Next, I toasted some bread. This was to hide its staleness. Then, I fried the freshly shaved meat. I seasoned it with his dandruff. This was achieved by shaking his head directly over the skillet. I personally took the skillet to the head, but you might prefer taking the head to the skillet.
After that, I plucked and mashed one of his eyeballs. I mixed this with the mustard for a nice tangy spread. In place of a lettuce leaf, I draped his tongue over the meat. I topped this with five toenails for some added crunch.
A toothpick through his severed penis helped hold the sandwich all in place. I left the meal on the kitchen table for his roommate to enjoy.
He told me to make him a sandwich. So I did.
That’s when the monster grabbed her.
“See? There’s no monster under the bed.” Sarah clicked off the flashlight.
Sarah clicked on the flashlight and crouched down. She lifted the covers and swept the flashlight beam back and forth beneath the bed. Empty. #toldyou
Benjamin handed Sarah his flashlight. “But you can’t see it in the light,” he insisted. #logicfail
“Benjamin, there isn’t a monster under your bed. Hand me your flashlight and I’ll prove it.” #famouslastwords
“I’m going to murder you,” Benjamin said. “I’m going to use your intestines to skip rope and then eat the rest of you. I’m hungry. So hungry.”
“It said the most horrible things.”
Sarah sighed. #notnearlyenough
Blinking in the sudden light, Benjamin said, “It spoke to me!” He was sitting up in bed, wrapped in blankets. He held a flashlight in unsteady hands.
Sarah switched on the overhead light. “Seriously? I’d rather you had just wet the bed.” #notbeingpaidenoughforthis
“I didn’t wet the bed, Miss Slate. I am not a future serial killer. The problem, Miss Slate, is the creature that is, right this very moment, under my bed.”
“Tell me you didn’t wet the bed,” Sarah said, opening the bedroom door.
He had better not have wet the bed. He was way too old for that. Unless he was a future serial killer. Sarah climbed the stairs. Benjamin’s bedroom door was closed.
“Nothing is on fire, but it’s an emergency,” Benjamin peeped. “I swear!”
Sarah went to the foot of the stairs. “That’s an awful lot of peeping, Benjamin. Are you on fire?”
“Miss Slate! Miss Slate! I require your assistance!” #thiskid
Sarah was downstairs watching TV (a show about hunting for the ghost of Bigfoot) when Benjamin began screaming her name.
“Go to sleep, Benjamin,” Sarah said, rolling her eyes. “I don’t want to hear another peep out of you.”
Benjamin came out of the bathroom and called down the stairs, “Goodnight, Miss Slate. It was a pleasure being babysat by you.”
Benjamin went into the bathroom and brushed and flossed his teeth.
“Fine. I don’t care what you do with your teeth.”
“Of course, Miss Slate,” Benjamin said. “I will also floss.”
“Brush your teeth,” she told him.
They ate dinner. Benjamin complained about it. They did homework. Sarah complained about it. Then it was time for bed.
Sarah ordered pizza. #oops #sorry #notsorry
“I’d prefer Chinese!” he called, as he went upstairs to change.
“Pizza? And go change out of those clothes.” #notdoinglaundry
“Hello, Miss Slate.” #ugh
“Hello, Benjamin.” #twerp
Benjamin Finkle was sitting on the couch, hands folded in his lap. He was still in his school uniform, the tie undone. It made him look like a very small businessman.
Sarah watched the taillights fade before entering the house.
With a wave, and another toot of the horn, the Finkles drove away.
Mrs. Finkle fastened her seat belt. “We’ll be home by midnight. I’ve left some money on the counter so you can order dinner.” #pizza
Sarah grabbed her backpack. “About what time will you be back?”
Sarah got out of the van so Mrs. Finkle could get in. Mr. Finkle told her not to forget her backpack.
“I guess I shouldn’t have turned it off,” said Mr. Finkle, starting the engine.
He turned off the engine. Mrs. Finkle was already coming out the front door.
“We’re here!” he said, just like he did every time Sarah babysat for them. #suchadork #runsinthefamily
Sarah fastened her seat belt. Mr. Finkle drove them to the Finkles’ house and pulled into their driveway.
“We’re not leaving until you fasten your seat belt,” said Mr. Finkle.
“That’s what people keep telling me,” Sarah said, opening the van’s passenger door. She tossed her bag in the back and got in.
Mr. Finkle drove up in the family van, tooting the horn. “Hello, Sarah,” he called out the window. “Thanks for doing this on such short notice. You’re a lifesaver!”
Sarah grabbed her backpack and sat on the porch swing to wait for Mr. Finkle.
“Okay, I’ll just grab my backpack and wait for him on the porch.” #homework
“Mr. Finkle will be right over to pick you up. You’re a lifesaver, my darling. A lifesaver, I say!”
Called it, thought Sarah. “Yes, I’m free tonight, Mrs. Finkle.” #psychic
“Please tell me you’re free tonight! I need a babysitter for my precious little angel!”
Sarah sighed and answered the phone. She needed the money, even if she did hate precious little Benjamin Finkle. #fml
Sarah looked at the caller ID. It said Mrs. Finkle. She’d be wanting a babysitter for her precious little angel. #yuck
The telephone rang.
Send me a number:
1. What color of eyes did the cutest boy in school have?
2. Before today, do you think he knew your name?
3. Who are you kidding?
4. Do you think his girlfriend’s hair was naturally that color?
5. Are you stupid?
6. Do you think he knew your nickname?
7. Trick question. Of course he did.
8. Do you remember how you got it, the nickname?
9. Trick question. Of course you do.
10. You can’t forget the class trip to the petting zoo. It was a billion million thousand years ago but you still can’t forget. Have you tried?
11. Trick question. Of course you tried.
12. It’s too late—but do you think you should have tried harder?
13. When you were bottle feeding that goat and that other one came up behind you and put its mouth right up your dress and grabbed your underwear and yanked—yanked them right off your seven-year old ass, yanked so hard you fell to the ground—what were you thinking?
14. Lying there in the dirt, surrounded by your classmates, was it, ‘This event will define the rest of my life,’?
15. Shouldn’t it have been?
16. Why did you piss yourself, there on the ground, as you watched the goat shake your underwear like a dog with a new toy?
17. Those little white underwear with WEDNESDAY WEDNESDAY WEDNESDAY written in pink curlicue letters across the seat, why did you wear them on a Thursday?
18. Was ‘Wet Wednesday’ really such a bad nickname?
19. Trick question. Of course it was.
20. So about the cutest boy in school: if you could ask him now, do you think he’d know your name?
21. His girlfriend, after you killed her, did you check to see if the carpet matched the drapes?
22. She was shaved wasn’t she?
23. When you took the cutest boy in school out to the woods where you buried his now ex, and told him what you did and how much you loved him, did he reciprocate your feelings?
24. How many times did you have to hit him with that tree limb to get him to stop screaming?
25. When he woke up, tied to that chair, and you took the duct tape off his mouth, what did he call you?
26. It was Wet Wednesday, wasn’t it?
27. Did you really have to hit him so hard?
28. Trick question. Of course you did.
29. Someone saw you trying to lug the unconscious cutest boy in school into your house didn’t they?
30. How else do you explain all those cops showing up, surrounding the place?
31. When you hung almost halfway out your bedroom window and shot at them with your shotgun, did you hit any of them?
32. What was that they were screaming through the megaphone? To come out with your hands up, like in the movies?
33. When you pressed the barrel of the revolver to the cutest boy in school’s forehead and told him how you had carefully etched his name and your name—your real name—onto both bullets, the one for him, and the one for you, do you think he appreciated the gesture?
34. Be honest, wasn’t the snot dripping from his nose while he begged and pleaded with you a little gross?
35. After you pulled the trigger, and the cops kicked in the front door and charged up the stairs making the whole house shake, did it feel like you had made a mistake?
36. Then why were you laughing?
37. Why were you laughing so hard you had to plug your mouth up with the gun?
38. How did it taste?
39. Were you scared at all?
40. Why did you pull the trigger?
Send me a number. I’ll answer honestly. Please. It’s so lonely in the dark.