THERE BE MONSTERS
“They didn’t prepare you for this, did they?”
The comment came back to Sarah as she huddled in the supply closet, trembling, breathing in the harsh scent of crushed chalk, dust and musty paper. Could that have been only a few days earlier?
”People want to see their little darlings as innocent,” Jane Pearce had told her. “You want to believe it, too. Wait. The truth comes out after you’ve been with them a while.”
Jane laughed, a harsh little bark. “There be monsters here. That’s what. There’s nothing meaner than a child. Wait. You’ll find out.”
At the time Sarah dismissed the remark as the ranting of a jaded teacher. At the time, Sarah was fresh, new to the classroom, enthusiastic about her position and eager to engage with young minds awaiting her influence.
Now she knew.
There were monsters in the classroom.
And now they were out there, hunting her.
Sarah shifted. Her legs were cramped. The stacked boxes left little room for her to squeeze into the closet. The boy, Tyler, had taken her hand and guided her down the hall as the other children were busy attacking Jane. Sarah had been too shocked to move on her own.
The riot began in the cafeteria. She and Jane were hall monitors. She had no idea what sparked the uproar. Suddenly pupils were throwing plates and cups, splattering the walls with food, shouting and screaming. The principal waded into the melee, trying to restore order. Someone hit him with a chair. He stumbled to his knees and they were on him, kicking and stomping, their voices blending into a horrible roar.
“Run, dammit. Run!” Jane shouted and went forward to try and help the principal.
“Come on,” a voice beside her said as Sarah watched in horror. She looked down and saw Tyler, a little boy, dark hair, dark eyes large in a pale face. “Don’t be afraid,” he told her. “I’m gonna help you.”
It seemed like hours ago the boy had left her crouching in the dark closet. It was quiet now. Too quiet. The screams, the cacophonous roar of many raised voices, the rumble and thud of little feet up and down the hallways outside her sanctum—all had faded away, been replaced now only by the hum of blood in her veins with the beat of her heart.
Was it safe to leave the closet?
Sarah started to reach for the knob, then hesitated. What if they were out there, waiting for her to… What? What would they do to her if they found her? What had they done to Jane and the others? A wave of fear set her to shivering. Sarah clutched her arms round herself, squeezed shut her eyes and took a sibilant breath. It seemed she’d been holding her breath the whole time she was in this closet. Her chest ached with the tension.
Sarah wanted to open the door. She wanted to go out and see it had only been a dream. See her pupils smiling up from their desks, obedient and eager to learn. She wanted to forget what really had happened. Sarah wanted desperately to go home. She wanted to be safe.
She sighed. Fearful they might have heard the sound, Sarah clapped a hand over her mouth. She cocked an ear, listening.
Silence. Nothing but silence.
She shifted her position. Pins and needles in her aching legs. Did she dare open the door? She raised a hand toward the knob, then drew it back. How long would she have to wait? Surely someone would come and rescue her. Wouldn’t they?
Time passed and silence reigned.
When she could stand it no longer, Sarah crept closer to the door and opened it just enough to peer out. Seeing no movement, she opened the door wider and stuck out her head. A shadow moved against the distant wall and Sarah drew back. Her heart thudded like a drum. Her mouth felt dry as sand.
The scrape of a shoe on the oiled floorboards of the hall and Sarah trembled with fear. A tap at the door forced her back as far as she could go in the closet.
“It’s me,” a child’s voice whispered.
He’d come back for her. Was it safe to open the door?
“Tyler?” she asked, her voice squeaking with the tension.
“It’s okay. You can come out now.”
Cautiously, Sarah opened the door. The boy gazed up at her, reached out a hand. She took his hand and stepped out. “You’re sure? It’s safe?”
The boy nodded.
“Miss Pearce—is she…”
“She’s okay. She sent me to get you.”
“But they were hurting her. I saw…”
Surely she could trust this boy. It must not have been as bad as she imagined. Holding Tyler’s hand, Sarah went with him back to the cafeteria.
All was silent along the way. She saw no sign of damage. Everything appeared normal. They came to the double doors leading to the cafeteria. Sarah hesitated. She looked down at Tyler.
The boy smiled.
There was nothing to worry about. They were only children. How could she have let her imagination get the best of her? Sarah put a palm against the door and pushed it open.
They set upon her as soon as she came through the opening. Tiny hands gripping her arms, her legs, her clothing. They pulled her to the floor and began kicking and biting and pummeling her. Sarah screamed, throwing up her hands in front of her face, doubling into a fetal position, trying in vain to avoid the pain.
Tyler watched numbly until Sarah stopped moving and lay still and silent like the other staff. Then he looked over at the older boy who was leader of the pack. “She trusted me,” he whispered.
The other boy stepped closer and laid a hand on Tyler’s shoulder. “You done good. That’s why we sent you. It’s okay. Don’t feel bad. Like I said, it was you or her.”
Influenced early on by Poe, J. R. Lindermuth often allows his imagination to take him strange places. He is the author of eight novels and has published stories in a variety of magazines, both print and on line.
Being Someone Else (July 2010), Whiskey Creek Press
Watch The Hour (April 2009), Whiskey Creek Press