SIDE CHANGE – PLEASE FLIP YOUR CASSETTE OVER NOW
SIDE TWO, TRACK ONE: NEW GIRL NOW
It looked like a rat, if rats walked upright like humans and were six feet tall. But its rattiness was questionable because of the shadows in which it stood. It could have been a person or a pile of junk. But even in silhouette, it looked like a huge, leering rodent, there in the back of the pantry.
And Andi had been dreaming about, and waking in fright from the memory of it, for the last week.
Ever since that terrible Saturday at Randall’s house.
She sat up in bed, yawned and stretched, then slid out from under the covers to stand on the cold wooden floor of her bedroom. Just over a week left in October, and the homework while she’d been away from school had piled up exponentially. But the school’s ‘compassionate absence’ had run out of compassion, and a call from the principal’s office yesterday set things straight on how much longer Andi could miss classes.
That is to say, not anymore.
She’d sit out the Flags’ routine at the pep rally today, just as she did the JV game last night. But soon it would be back to normal, the needs and wants of everyone else’s lives crushing her own life to conform.
She wondered how long the other game-players would take to go back to normal. Randall and his brothers were out for good — rumor had it they were going to be homeschooled, with a good possibility of the Hart family leaving town altogether.
Cy and Eddie were back in class, and presumably so was that guy who played Jason, whoever he was.
Benjamin was still out, and Andi spared him a thought and a little prayer, just as she’d done every time she’d thought of him since…
Would Benjamin’s life go back to normal? How close to ‘normal’ could you get if your little sister disappeared and they never, ever found her?
Just as she spared Benjamin a thought and a prayer, she also spared him a shiver, as she recalled him laughing like a psycho, sprawled out on Randall’s yard, his voice a hoarse croak as he shouted his sister’s name.
Also, a shiver for the rat-thing she’d seen for a split second while hunting for Eury in the house.
And for the wall, and when she touched it —
No. No, no no. That was too far, too crazy. If she dwelled on that, or on how real everything she imagined seemed to be during that last play session…
…well, they’d probably find her lounging on the lawn, giggling like a loon, too.
Andi had her morning routine down to an easy pattern. You move to a bunch of different towns and schools when you’re growing up, and you learn to control the few things within your grasp. Shower, hair, makeup, clothes — the Holy Trinity (Plus One). Andi could’ve gotten ready with the same quickness and precision no matter if she lived in a tent, or if she was getting ready during an earthquake, or whatever.
Mom and Dad were both downstairs when she clumped her way down the steps, smiling and anxious.
“I made your favorite,” Mom said, and a crumbled-up bacon and cheese on English muffin sandwich sounded like Heaven this morning.
Dad hugged her at an awkward angle, but Andi did her best to return it. “Are you sure you feel like going back?” he asked her. “I’ll fight that damn school if you don’t want to go.”
“It’s okay,” she told him, and squeezed him extra-hard for luck, while he pretend-groaned from the pressure of it.
“Little Flame,” he murmured, and tousled the hair she’d spent most of her morning routine fixing. She didn’t mind.
In the kitchen, Mom had the ‘Andi Special’ on a plate and ready to devour, with a glass of tomato juice on the side. Andi smiled, thanked her, and settled in to eat, trying not to notice how her folks hovered.
She took her first bite, and wondered how the other players’ breakfasts were going this morning. She pictured Randall and his brothers fasting and praying, fasting and praying, withering down to nothing while they waited for forgiveness from parents more strict and merciless than any Old Testament God.
The second bite didn’t taste as good.
She waited at the corner for the bus. No other kids her age lived on this street, so any time she took the bus, hanging out until it arrived was a lonely vigil.
And as long as the cops had her bike, and all the other players’ belongings, locked up as ‘evidence,’ it was a vigil she’d have to stand for a long while.
She touched the stop-sign pole as if testing its flexibility. Still, a week on, she was hesitant to touch solid, unyielding surfaces.
“I did not,” she whispered to herself, then looked up and down the block in case anyone was listening. They’d be listening when she got to school. That was for sure, listening and watching and waiting to see if the girl from that gang of crazy kids did anything bizarre.
She knew the buzz in town from her parent’s first trip to the grocery store a few days ago. Their last trip, too, to hear them speak.
She’d heard the cops’ snide whispers to each other as they talked about how the players were dressed, and about the wild stories they’d been told, not to mention the state of the Harts’ house.
And when they started passing Benjamin’s Trapper Keeper back and forth, leafing through the pages with contemptuous, uncomprehending eyes, Andi knew the narrative all the gossips in town would be parroting from then on.
Particularly when one cop came right out and said it to the others, loud and proud so even Andi and the players could hear it:
With a frown, she pressed her hand against the chilly metal pole once more, not without cringing. “I did not,” she said again.
None of the things she imagined had happened at Randall’s house. They couldn’t have. The rat-man wasn’t real. The ‘reality’ of the game, where her imagination took flight and her and the others fell into some kind of trance? That wasn’t real, either.
And the most not-real thing of all was when she touched her hand to the wall and it passed right through, just like a ghost’s would.
Or a banshee’s.
Today’s Words: 1088
Total Words: 21136
Notes: The four of you who have been reading these posts will notice this one is two days late. Well spotted!
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)