He had the same classmates as he had last year, with the same girl, Suzie Anderson, whom he had a crush on for the last two years and just didn't have the guts to tell her. All the same, he wanted to so badly. Perhaps tomorrow. Well, next week.
His best friend, Jason, sat to the right of him. Last year the fourth grade teacher had to separate them both for being too loud. He supposed that fart noises in the middle of silent reading wasnât very funny to some people, but now they were together again.
So far, the school year was going great, except for one minor discrepancy, Mrs. Hariett- the fifth grade teacher. She looked about sixty years old with a grandmotherly appeal to her; gray hair, a kind wrinkly face, a voice that both comforted him and yet kept him at attention. He liked her in a way, but at the same time there was something odd about her, as if maybe she was too nice.
However, he did see a strange side to her. It happened yesterday during math class when the teacher held up a series of index cards to each student in the class. On one side there was a multiplication or a division problem, and on the other side was the answer. When Mrs. Hariett had shown one to April, a quiet, short girl who usually stayed away from the other kids, her eyes narrowed and seemed to gleam at her. April had given out a little stutter, obviously nervous as she tried to come up with an answer. Then quietly she said, 'Fifteen.' Wrong. And in those teacher's eyes, Patrick saw a wave of anger lash out toward her as if there was a heinous creature trapped inside, wanting... struggling to break free, but only for a second. April sunk in her seat and Patrick knew that she had seen it as well.
Later, during recess, Patrick saw Mrs. Hariett with April. They went around toward the back of the school. Patrick didn't follow them. He figured she was going to have a little talk with April about math and that was all. But after recess, as Patrick and the other kids came back into class, he noticed that April wasn't at her desk. He thought nothing of it... tried not to think anything of it. It was just, weird.
"Hey, Patrick... pppppppffffff!" Jason let out a fart noise with his lips and the palms of his hands, and the sound tore through the class room, startling Mrs. Hariett. Patrick and the rest of the class laughed out loud. Jason wiped the slobber from his lips, laughing with the class at his brainstorm idea. Ah, he was still the master. However, Patrick's smile slowly faltered as he peered at Mrs. Hariett. Her eyes held that same glare, and now they were directed at Jason.
Patrick became scared. But, what was there to be scared about? After all, April was back in class. He peered at her in the front row. She sat there, poised with her hands folded in front of her. Earlier, when the teacher had asked her a question pertaining to the dinosaurs, April answered it without hesitation and a voice that was full of confidence.
Maybe Mrs. Hariett had given April some advice yesterday behind the building. Or, perhaps they had a female to female talk. That sometimes worked, right? Patrick smiled at April then peered back toward the teacher. Mrs. Hariett was still staring at Jason and Jason was laughing so hard he didn't notice.
"Jason... ssshhh," Patrick hissed and watched his friend fall from out of the seat onto the floor.
The entire class laughed even harder. Mrs. Hariett was still staring... eyes gleaming. Patrick turned away, trying his best not to be in any part of it.
"Jason," Mrs. Hariett said at last. Her voice sounded like the creak of an old door opening ever so slowly.
The class quieted down and turned toward Mrs. Hariett. Jason's laughter slowly dissipated and he became somewhat nervous as he peered from one end of the classroom to the other.
"Jason," Mrs. Hariett said again. "I want you to step outside and wait for me."
Jason looked at Mrs. Hariett and his eyes widened. Patrick saw this and he became afraid for his friend and wondered if this called for a citation? Detention? Expulsion? Nah, probably a name on the board. But as Patrick peered back into Mrs. Hariett's eyes he thought that maybe death could be yet another option.
Jason stood up from his seat and gave a quick glance toward Patrick before he set foot toward the other end of the classroom for the door. Mrs. Hariett kept her narrow eyes on him and Patrick saw, for the first time in his life, that Jason was scared, and that made Patrick even more fearful.
Jason looked back toward Patrick one final time then left out the door. It closed silently behind him.
A few minutes later, Mrs. Hariett exited the classroom, leaving the class alone for what seemed like an eternity. Well, it was only for ten minutes, and the entire class just sat there, partially in shock and in fear. Patrick peered at Alice. He could see only the back of her head, however he knew something was wrong as she just sat there and faced the same direction, motionless.
Death, it leaves you speechless...
Patrick didn't see Jason for the rest of the day. He figured he was probably sent home for his little prank. Mrs. Hariett was delightfully pleasant afterwards. She had returned to her usual grandmotherly self. She laughed with some of the kids in class and two or three times she even told stories of home. Her dear father, who worked hard his whole life and went nowhere. Her mother, who baked pies all day, every day, and her old town of Chilbury up in Minnesota. So peaceful... so delightful. It made Patrick dream about being with his real parents, as they had split up from a divorce when he was six and his mother left him with his grandmother. He had never seen either of them again.
"Aww, you poor thing," Mrs. Hariett cooed when she saw that Suzie had paper cut her finger. "Let me kiss that and make it aaaalllll better." Mrs. Hariett took a hold of Suzie's finger and licked the blood off before kissing it. "That's a sweeeeet little girl."
Suzie gave out a nervous smile. Then the bell rang and the kids jumped up from their desks, and out the door they went. Patrick gathered his books and lingered behind. He kept his eyes on Mrs. Hariett as he walked past her toward the door, and she peered at him with loving, caring eyes. He smiled, feeling a little relieved. It could all just be in his imagination, after all. He turned and ran off for home.
The next morning, Patrick didn't see Jason at all before class. Sure, he was concerned about him yesterday, but now he was really worried. He remembered seeing Mrs. Hariett and April heading toward the back of the school the other day, and now he found himself curious. Exactly where was his teacher taking his friends? He didn't know and he was sure that the rest of the kids in the school didn't either. Well, except for April... and Jason.
Patrick glanced to his left and right. No teachers. He ran for the far end of the playground and went around toward the back. There was only a handful of students in the vicinity, but they were too busy talking and laughing to notice him. As Patrick jogged closer he could hear the hum-hum of the air-conditioner unit and some low-key sounds from various steel pipes that weaved in and out of a rusted iron grating.
A chain-linked fence nearly pinned Patrick against the building as he continued to search for some sort of clue that would enlighten his curiosity, except there was nothing but the usual industrial equipment. He stopped and turned around to backtrack when he reached the other end of the school. There, he saw kids being dropped off by their parents, and from afar he caught sight of the yellow school buses. They reminded him of giant caterpillars.
Again, he returned to where the air-conditioning unit was and stopped. He panned his vision across the area, looking for something out of the ordinary: A dead body, an article of clothing, some blood, anything, but he didn't see a damn thing unusual. Then from behind, the air-conditioner shut off with a forceful click. Patrick jumped and spun around, facing the unit and ready to run away as fast as he could, but instead he stood his ground. There, he caught sight of a pink hairclip on top of the rusted green unit. Patrick picked it up and examined it. He didn't know how he could have missed the hairclip, it stuck out clear as day. And he recognized it too. It was April's.
From afar, Patrick heard the school bell ring along with the muffled chatter of school kids heading for their classes. He looked at the hairclip one last time then stuck it in his pocket. Now he had evidence that something odd was going on in his class, but he couldn't quite figure out what. After all, April was still alive. Patrick had seen her sitting in the front row and heard her speak as well. So, no, she wasn't dead that was for sure, but what else did Mrs. Hariett do when she brought her students back there? Take off their hairclips? Nah, Patrick didn't think his teacher was interested in hair. It was something else, it had to be.
At that moment, Patrick turned around and ran for class. He made it inside just before the late bell rang. Mrs. Hariett was at her desk, peering at him with her tender, caring eyes and wearing a smile so big, Patrick swore he could count all of her teeth. Most of the other kids were just getting into their seats, and as Patrick neared his he wiped his forehead in relief.
Patrick sat down and turned to Jason's desk, but Jason wasn't there. Sitting in it instead was Alonzo; a tall skinny Mexican kid who had the habit of picking at his scabs. Gross. Patrick began to panic as he searched over the rows of students for his best friend... and then he found him. Jason was sitting at the front of the class beside April.
The first thought that flew into his mind was that Mrs. Hariett had moved him to the front row so that she could keep a closer eye on him. But, when he saw both Jason and April sitting together a sort of dread filled him. Jason had changed. He was sitting up in his seat instead of slouching, his hands were neatly folded on the desk and his hair was nicely combed.
All day April and Jason sat there, not going out to recess or even shifting positions in their seats. Patrick hoped to talk with Jason between classes but he never left the classroom. Patrick began to get anxious. He thought about April's pink hairclip he found behind the school. Patrick couldn't remember the last time he had seen her without it.
Perhaps Mrs. Hariett had changed them. Patrick shook the idea out of his head. No, that was impossible. A person just can't go out and change someone's manners and habits just like that. However, he knew something was wrong, and that Mrs. Hariett had everything to do with it.
And Patrick was frightened of one other thing. During Reading and Language class, Mrs. Hariett had the class read out loud for her. When it was Suzie's turn she couldn't quite remember which paragraph she was supposed to read. Mrs. Hariett's eyes flashed at her, and Patrick drew in a quick breath. Some of the other kids in class turned their heads away from her, trying to avert attention.
Mrs. Hariett said in her old, creaky voice, "Albert, please show Suzie where we're at."
Albert hung his head low. He didn't know either.
"Well," said Mrs. Hariett. "Looks like the both of you are going to be spending some time after class." She then turned to Suzie and uttered, "We're on the third paragraph from the top on page thirty-six."
Suzie pin-pointed the location of the missing paragraph and began to read nervously. Patrick was afraid for her. He promised to himself that he would wait until after class and find out, once and for all, what exactly Mrs. Hariett was doing to his friends, and hopefully stop whatever was happening.
But, Patrick had to wait. There was one more subject left- Science. He didn't know if he could wait another hour, but he had to. He had to play Mrs. Hariett's little game for one more hour, and after that she was all his.
During class, Patrick kept an eye on Suzie just in case Mrs. Hariett decided on taking her and Albert back behind the school and doing who knew what. Then a voice spoke in his head, She's turning them into robots, into machines! The hair on the back of Patrick's neck stood up. He peered up at Jason and April. Each were working on their school work as were the rest of the class. Only he noticed that they were writing at the same pace, and at the same time.
Patrick shook his head to clear his mind. He breathed slowly and closed his eyes, trying not to let his panic get the best of him.
"Patrick?" Mrs. Hariett called from her desk. "Are you feeling okay?"
Patrick opened his eyes and gripped the edges of his desk. "Yes...," he said weakly.
"Perhaps you'd like me to take you down to the nurse's office?"
"No!" he proclaimed, then sunk in his seat and said, "No, that's okay. I feel fine. Really."
Mrs. Hariett let out a smile and went back to correcting papers.
Patrick looked down at his hands and saw that they were shaking and he quickly sat on them. That was too close. God, he couldn't wait till class was finally over with. He peered back at the clock which hung to his left. Fifteen minutes. Just fifteen more minutes and he was free.
Patrick sat still for a little while longer, catching his breath and trying to focus on one thing and one thing only; to find out what Mrs. Hariett was doing to his friends. Ah, it sounded too easy. Patrick raised his hands back above his desk and picked up his pencil and began answering the questions on his paper as best as he could. He really didn't care if they were right or wrong. He just wanted time to hurry!
Patrick kept at it, and before he knew it the final bell rang like an eye-popping shriek of a child being eaten alive. Patrick jumped in his seat and felt his heart rush a million times a second. The class grabbed their books and back packs and shuffled out the door. Patrick lingered behind once again just so that he'd know if Suzie and Albert were really going to stay after class, and as he stepped out of the cluster of desks, he heard Mrs. Hariett instruct Suzie and Albert to stay seated.
Patrick took one more glance toward Suzie, and she quickly turned toward him and in those few seconds their eyes met, Patrick saw only one thing- terror. He also saw that April and Jason hadn't risen from their seats yet. In fact, they were still sitting there, staring straight at Mrs. Hariett's desk.
"Bye, Patrick," said Mrs. Hariett- her voice soothing and caring. Patrick glanced at Mrs. Hariett, waved quickly with a false smile and left. The door shut behind him like a pressure chamber, ch-shshshshsh-click. He walked halfway through the playground, stopped, then headed back for the classroom. He kept himself ready just in case the classroom door were to open. He prayed that it wouldn't.
Cautiously, he crept up to the door, which was mostly all tinted glass except for the orange outer edges, and tried to peek inside, but the glare from the sun behind him hindered his vision. He leaned forward and placed both hands on either side of his face, and what he saw made his stomach rise up to his throat. Mrs. Hariett had Suzie up in the air, close to her face. She was holding her by her neck and she held Albert in her other hand as he struggled to break free.
Mrs. Hariett then opened her mouth extremely wide and a red liquid, like spaghetti sauce, shot straight into Suzie's mouth. She gave out a fierce jerk then fell limp in her grasp. When she was finished she let go of Suzie and raised Albert in the air. Albert cried and begged for his mother... for anybody, but there was only Patrick.
Patrick watched as Albert's body twitched then remained still. Yes, he too was taken. Patrick couldn't blink. His eyes were fixed on everything that was happening. The voice in his head told him to turn away, to run as fast as he could and tell his grandparents. Tell his neighbors. Tell a police officer. Hell, tell anybody!
Albert's eyes rolled back into his sockets and his face looked as if it was melting right off his skull. Patrick flinched at the sight of it, and banged his elbow down hard on the push-in door handle. It made a loud clack and Mrs. Hariett spun around, dropping Albert to the floor.
Caught! Patrick's eye's widened in fear. He wanted to run... the voice in his head screamed for him to run but his feet wouldn't let him. His legs felt like Jell-O and he couldn't come up with enough strength to just turn around.
Mrs. Hariett growled and opened the door swiftly. Her eyes were blood red, her mouth was covered in that spaghetti sauce gunk and her thick, pulpy tongue sloshed from side to side between her malformed lips.
She then grabbed onto Patrick's shirt and yanked him inside the classroom. The door shut with a bang. The others were there with him, but they clearly were not alive as they just stared off into no where.
"Bad children," cried the thing that was Mrs. Hariett, "Bad, bad children!"
Patrick took a few steps back then reared up against a desk and almost toppled over. His backpack flailed loose and he extended his arms to let it fall all the way off. "J- Jason... Suzie, what did you-"
"I ate their little brains... bad children brains! And now they pay attention like good, little kiddies!" Mrs. Hariett growled and sloshed her tongue again.
Patrick hurried to the other end of the classroom, and from there he finally saw his friendsâ faces and he could not help but fall to his knees in horror. Their faces looked as if they were peeled off from their skulls and grossly reattached again. One of Jason's eyes was too far inside its socket and the other was bulging out too far. Both of April's eyes were hanging down her cheeks by moist, bloody cords.
"Their brains taste like sugar sweet! Oh, sweet, sweet children!" Mrs. Hariett growled. Then her thick, sloshing tongue shot out across the room and wrapped around Patrick's neck.
Patrick grasped onto the drooling tongue but it was just too strong. The tongue then started to reel Patrick in closer. He tried to scream for help but he could barely breathe.
"Help," he mouthed. "Help..." But it was too late.
The thing that was Mrs. Hariett dragged Patrick closer so that he was in her grasp. She raised him into the air and a rush of thick, bloody stomach acid spewed into his mouth and ate him up from the inside out. She then slid her wanting tongue in his mouth and up into his skull and slowly slurped up his sweet, sweet brains.
When it was all over, Mrs. Hariett set Patrick, Albert and Suzie in the three remaining front row seats. She then waved her hand in the air and all five of the children's faces returned to their pleasant normal selves. Their smiles stretched from ear to ear and their eyes gleamed bright in attention.
"Good children," Mrs. Hariett said with her proud, grandmotherly voice. "These are the faces of good, good children."
Bio: Brian Grisham lives in Modesto, California and has published a novelette, "When The Moon Remembers" which is available on his website. He is currently putting together a collection of short stories, "Black Roses In Delirium."
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