1: An Unfriendly Welcome to St. Lawrence Academy

I wasn't the smartest kid in the world, but I wasn't dumb. I knew a rat when I smelled one. When I was five, I stuck a knife in an electric socket. Everyone knows nothing good’s going to happen when you stick a knife in an electric socket. That didn’t keep me from doing it. Sometimes I just wanted to find things out for myself. That was one of those times.

Call me Jason. Not Jase, or Jasey, or Jase-my-man. It’s Jason. Jason West. Maybe if things like people not saying my full name didn't piss the hell out of me, I wouldn’t have ended up at St. Lawrence Academy.

I’ll admit to having a short temper. I’d tell you to ask Dax Leary about it, but the doctors say that he’s got another three months before he should be moving his jaw. Kinda sucks. I warned him, though, so I don't think I should have to feel all that guilty. Wish dad felt the same way. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna give you that crap about being from a broken home and psycho-bullshitting my life to help you get who I am. If you don't get me, screw you.

Dax Leary was the asshole of St. Luke’s football team. St. Luke is a rat-hole Catholic school in Tennessee. By rat-hole, I mean where the rat lawyers and doctors shit out their kids, while them and their trophy wives took trips to Boca Raton, Del Mar, and Akron for five week intervals. Me and Dax never had any issues, mainly because we didn’t hang in the same circles. That wasn't very difficult for me to accomplish because I never had a circle—or friends for that matter. He had hardly noticed me until one day when I accidentally bumped into him in the hallway.

Dax was a beefy guy with unnaturally edged muscles that you and me both know are the result of illegal steroid usage. No 17-year-old is supposed to look like an Abercrombie model. He was a tower of rock, so I ricocheted right off his arm.

“Watch it freak!”

This didn’t really bother me. He was caught off guard, and I would have given a similar knee-jerk reaction.

His goons stood at his sides, their glares encouraging Dax to punish me for my transgression. I slid past them.

"Looks like Jasey’s trying to feel me up!”

I haltedthat kind of halt where it feels like you’re body’s being pulled back.

“What’d you call me?” I asked in a guttural whisper. Dax may have been bigger than me, but my impressive past with a violent disposition assured me that my temper could easily outperform his fluff-muscles.

“You got a problem?...Jasey?”

I turned around. Dax’s arched brow lowered slightly, as his confidence diminished.

“You’ve been warned," I said.

“Oooo.”

“Pcht!”

Snickering.

His goons were amused by my dead-serious words. Dax’s quivering lip assured me that he knew my intention behind them. His game face was ruined, but with his buddies behind him and seeming to be awaiting retaliation, he evidently feared their disapproval over my reaction. He opened his mouth again.

“What?....Jasey?”

If you want to know the difference between the sound of a melon splattering against concrete and Dax’s head bashing into a brick wall: there isn’t one.

So there I was, four weeks later, having been forced to leave St. Luke’s, with my Dad using the influence of money and his high-powered attorney to keep me in school and on 'the right track.'

That’s where St. Lawrence Academy came in. On the brochure, it looked miserable. A bunch of anime-eyed guys patting each others' backs and two girls laughing their heads off. It looked more like a poster for a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers than a brochure for a Catholic school. I didn’t know any guys like that—the kind that patted each others' backs and had those ridiculously big eyes. I guess their eyes were so big because they were trying to open them wide enough to take in all the beauty of life. Whatever their reason, I sure as hell didn't want to know them. Claire didn’t like it when I talked about happy people like that—like there was something wrong with them. She said it meant that I could be a sociopath or have suicidal tendencies. There were like a million other things that she thought could be wrong with me because I didn’t want to be a fucking drone. What a bitch. Don’t worry, she wasn’t my girlfriend. Just a slutty guidance counselor that wore a two inch skirt and made us call her Claire instead of Miss Michaelson. I think it had more to do with her inability to accept that she was over 30, rather than an attempt to connect with us on a deep, meaningful level.

I sat in Father Daniels' office. He was the principal of the academy. I was supposed to report to him first thing when I arrived. We had an appointment and everything. Boy did I ever feel special!

I pushed my foot against his desk so that two of the legs of my chair hung in the air. I rocked back and forth.

His office was pretty standard—a lot like Father Russo’s at St. Luke’s. There were school awards and sports pix up all over the walls. Ribbons, trophies, certificates—all presumably won by some prodigy of the system. I’d never won anything like that. I was never interested in anything athletic or that involved any sort of skill.

St. Lawrence’s pride was soccer, as evidenced by a row of framed pictures above the bookshelf behind the desk. These guys were smiling, like the guys in the brochure, but even they didn’t have those absurd anime-eyes. I wondered if the guy’s eyes in the brochure had been digitally altered.

Some muffled voices came from the reception desk outside, followed by the click of the doorknob turn and the rattling blinds against the glass window on the door. Office noises always got me on edge. Everything so quiet and then that shaking and rattling and clicking.

“You must be Jason West,” a voice said behind me. I assumed it was Father Daniels. I wasn’t going to turn around. I wasn’t going to go out of my way for anyone here. And I wanted this guy to know it.

I could tell by the slight pause that he was testing me just as much as I was testing him. He wanted to know if I was going to be trouble, and he had his answer.

“Well, I’m Father Daniels,” he said. He came around to the side of his desk. He was looking all prissy in his priest get-up. I wished for a minute that I’d been in less Catholic environments so that I could enjoy the humor of such a ridiculous costume.

He had a big round face and what looked like had been a pronounced jaw-line, which was now concealed by a flabby double-chin. He had amazingly dark hair—especially for someone who I guessed was in his late fifties. I imagined his heyday being like Dax Leary’s—a big-shot at sports. Now he got to be the powerhouse over a school. I wanted to run back to Tennessee just to let Dax know that he’d have a future as either a principal or a prude cloth-man. And if he was really lucky, he could be both!

Father Daniels stood tall as he rested one hand against the edge of his desk. He looked down at me with a southern smile—broad, but utterly insincere.

“I had a chance to review your file.”

My file. I loved the way they said that, like there was some mystical file that contains everything that anyone could ever need to know about me. In actuality, I knew all that he was saying was that he was aware of how many fights I’d gotten into, with a particular focus on my latest and greatest. It didn't matter. My Dad had surely slipped him a big wad of money that quieted his concern about any of my indiscretions and would be well worth it even if I did manage to get into some sort of trouble.

Father Daniels nodded certainly. “Yes, I’ve seen your file, seen all the trouble you like to make.” He walked around his desk to his chair. “But I understand. I used to be a bit of a rebel when I was your age. Guess it’s just sort of the natural inclination when you feel misunderstood.”

Oh, here we go, I thought. I must be wearing a sign that says: PLEASE ANALYZE ME!

He sat in his chair and leaned back slightly. “But you and I aren’t going to have any problems here, are we?”

I’m no linguist, but I was sure that that wasn't a question.

He looked at me with dead-serious eyes. I couldn’t tell if they were brown or black. I imagined that was what my eyes looked like the day Dax made the mistake of calling me Jasey. I sure didn’t show him a flinch, but I felt that lightening of my arm muscles, like I had suddenly been physically drained. I took a gulp that felt like I was swallowing mashed potatoes.

“Yes…” he said, his voice trailing off. He sounded menacing, almost like he already had something in mind for me. I couldn’t imagine what that might be. “You’ll be just fine here.”

An awkward moment passed where he just stared me in the eyes—not prodding, not analyzing, not even trying to intimidate me. He just stared.

I wanted to say something, but knew better. I just sat there, looking back at him.

He took a breath and leaned back in his chair. His demeanor completely shifted. He seemed much calmer—more like the way he had been when he first walked in. The transition was unsettling.

He opened a drawer, rifled through for a minute, then pulled out a manila envelope. He opened it and looked through its contents for a moment before handing it off to me. “Your dorm number, the key to it, and your schedule is all in there. If you have any questions, feel free to drop by.”

With that odd introduction, I left Father Daniels’ office and trekked outside with my suitcase and backpack.

Towers and arches decorated the brown-stoned mini-castle. Stained glass windows of reds, blues, purples, and greens were scattered across the walls. One depicted Jesus on the cross. Blood dripped down from his thorn-crown, streaked across his chest, and dripped to the base of the cross. It was peculiarly bloody compared to the benign images depicted at St. Luke. The other stained glass paintings depicted either the extreme, bloody suffering of Jesus or the demented suffering of some other apostle or biblical figure. There was even one of Joan of Arc burning at the stake, her head thrown back as she cried out.

Statues of angels and saints lined the walls. They posed in the usual iconic positions: Mary praying, Jesus with his arms stretched out, an angel reaching for the heavens. Their stone flesh was gray and cracked. Several Marys had chunks taken out of their faces or were missing appendages. An angel only had one wing. A Jesus held half a crucifix. Thorn branches, from dormant rose bushes that grew between the statues, wrapped around the figures' limbs and torsos. At the feet of the statues, grouped with the rose bushes, were shriveled-up flower arrangements. The academy was clearly behind on upkeep.

Though it wasn't as well-groomed as St. Luke's, there was something magical about the eerie, aging, overgrown building. Even the smell of rot that filled the air, which I assumed came from the nearby soil, delighted my senses. But another odor invaded my senses as well...and it smelled like a rat.

2: Roomies

“Hey, Stud.”

A juggernaut stood in the doorway, resting his arm on the frame. He was only in a pair of faded, red boxers and a necklace that held a circular, golden coin between his unnaturally large pecks.

Guess everyone and their mother can get their hands on steroids these days.
The edges of his shoulders were sharp and jagged. His pecks bulged at least four inches from his chest, and his arched biceps pushed out so that I could see several pronounced veins. Though he didn't have a six pack, his abs had a smooth line that divided two well-defined muscles. He had a thick, rough five-o'clock shadow, which led me to suspect that his perfectly smooth body was the result of an hour long shaving session every week or so. With a body like that, he probably didn't want any hair concealing his perfect curves and arcs.

His face was just as perfect as his body. He had baby blue eyes—the kind that had probably helped him get out of a lot of scrapes when he was little. They sparkled in the hall's fluorescent lights. He sported one of those annoying cocked grins as he revealed a row of perfect teeth. His dark-brown hair was just an inch longer than a crew cut. It laid flat, expect for the gelled front. He stood in the doorway, looking me up and down. He must have heard me slip my key in because the door had opened before I had a chance to turn the knob.

His "Hey, Stud" comment evoked some concern. I hoped that he wasn't trying to provoke me on my first day. How would Dad get me out of that one? Kicked out of one school after two months—kicked out of the next after a day.

Something in the juggernaut's gaze assured me that it was not intended as a threat, but as an invitation. I stared at him blankly.

“I’m Brad,” he said. He extended his hand. We shook. His biceps and triceps did a little dance. His peck bobbed up and down.

“Jason,” I said in my usual, conversationalist fashion.

Brad flashed an arrogant smile. A shimmer in his eyes evoked further concern. This one was different than the first look he'd given me. It was more like the one Father Daniels had given me—that look like he had something planned for me. Unlike with Father Daniels, I felt like I had a better idea of what Brad's plan was.

Guess I'll be sleeping with one eye open.

“Welcome to Hell,” Brad said. He winked.

“Oh…it’s not that bad,” a voice said from behind him.

Brad stepped aside and turned to a guy sitting at a desk, typing away on his laptop. Black t-shirt, jeans, and much scrawnier than mega-Brad. Not that he was a little guy. He just looked so much smaller than Brad. But then again, so did I.
His hair was jet-black against his pasty flesh. He had sharp features, and a large nose that stuck out almost as long as Brad’s pecks. His smooth face gave him an almost boyish look.

He didn’t look at me—just continued typing. The way that Brad stood by the door made him look like this guy's bodyguard.

“So you’re our new roomie,” he said. “Right side, bottom bunk. Bottom drawer. Space in the closet is yours.”

Brad waved his hand to invite me in.

I stepped in and looked around uneasily. I’ll admit to being somewhat claustrophobic, and the size of dorm rooms always make me a bit uneasy—at least until I got settled.

It was the typical setup. There were two bunk-beds. At the back of the room, a large window looked out at an oak tree that effectively obscured the room from light. The lack of light made the room appear even more cave-like. My pulse sped up.

On one side of the room, a desk was being used as a laundry bin, books were shelved on the beds, and a few dumbbells lied on the floor. The other side was perfect. Everything at the pasty guy’s desk had a place. The pencils and pens were all bunched together in a tin, the printer was set on a stand right beside the desk, and the papers were placed in a little bin that read: Homework. The bed was made, and the only article of clothing that was in sight was a stray sock that lied under the bed. I assumed the sock was an oversight.

I reached the bunk and dropped my backpack on it. I leaned my suitcase against the frame of the bottom bed.

The guy at the computer leaned away from the computer. His typing became frenzied. He turned his head to me but continued to look at the screen. He ended his typing fit with a deliberate key-punch, and then let his gaze follow the rest of his head. He took a breath.

“Hi. My name is Seth.” He enunciated his sentence perfectly. His demeanor and movements were calm, seemingly prepared. Despite his cool and seemingly sincere greeting, there was something unsettling about him. It could have just been the eeriness of his pasty-white flesh that reflected most of what little light was in the room.

“Jason,” I said.

“So where do you hail from?” he asked. He didn't strain to enunciate this time. In fact, it almost sounded as if he was trying to deliberately sound relaxed.

"Tennessee,” I replied.

Brad had already closed the door. He leaned on the bunk-beds on the other side of the room, almost like he was posing against the bed-frame. The longer his deep blue eyes gazed at me, they more sinister the gleam in them seemed to be.

Seth’s eyes wandered to the floor. I figured he was awkwardly ending our introduction. I turned to my backpack and rifled through it.

Seth leaped out of his chair and scurried to his knees. I jumped aside as he scrambled under the bed.

Brad chuckled into his hand.

Seth hopped back up, holding the sock from under the bed in his hand. His eyes were red—nowhere near as calm as they had been. He rushed over to Brad, getting his face right up against Brad's.

It was odd seeing this guy trying to challenge someone as massive and seemingly confident as Brad.

Brad was all smiles as Seth waved the sock in his face.

“Is this you’re idea of a joke?” Seth asked. “Huh? Dude, what is wrong with you?!”

“Oh come on, Seth. Seriously?” The smirk on Brad's face led me to believe that he was amused by Seth's reaction.

Seth threw the sock down on Brad’s side of the room and stomped back over to me.

His nostrils flared and his eyes were bright red. “Feel free to kill him if he steps on our side.”

Brad gave me a look like, “Yeah. Just try.” He wasn't someone that I was eager to mess with...unless I wanted to end up like Dax Leary. Still, I was far less worried about Brad than I was this OCD guy that I was about to share a room with for the next six months.

Seth climbed up to the top bunk.

“Whatever,” Brad said. He crawled up to the top bunk on his side.

It was on odd exchange. They were like an old married couple.

Brad hopped on top of his sheets. From the mess that was stacked around him, a page from a newspaper slipped down. It hit the cement floor and slid right across to my feet.

Brad and Seth simultaneously leaned over the bunks, looking down at the paper anxiously. The room was dead silent as all our attention was on the newspaper.

What a bunch of weirdos, I thought. It was ridiculous to see two people all worked up over a stupid piece of crap. I decided I should settle their your side/my side issue and leaned over to pick up the stupid paper.

6th LAWRENCEVILLE SLASHER VICTIM FOUND

A slasher? Great work dad. Find me a school in a town of psychos. Hmm…maybe that’s why it was the only school that would take me.

At least there was more going on in this town than Knoxville.

“Hey, what’s this—”

A hand quickly snatched the paper

Brad stood before me, his face stern, jaw clenched, and eyebrows narrowed. He looked like any second he might just start beating the crap out of me.

“BRAD!” Seth snapped.

That tone sent shivers up and down my spine. It reminded me of the way that I had heard my Dad snap at me after I’d been kicked out of St. Luke’s.

I turned to see an equally rigid look on Seth’s face.

They stared into each others' eyes. It looked like they wanted to have a conversation, but I was in the way, so they kept silent.

“Um…” I began, just to break the silence.

Brad’s gaze returned to me. He shook his head, as if shaking off the bizarre mood he was in. “Sorry man,” he said. He crumpled the newspaper. “Just not the kinda thing you want to look at first thing when you move in.”

I told you I could smell a rat, and this was a rat, but I wasn’t going to make anything of it. Whatever was up, neither of them wanted to talk about it, so I let them have their secrets. Knowing secrets, it would come out sooner or later.

“Whatever,” I said nonchalantly.

Brad headed back to his bunk with that crumpled up page. I looked around the room, hoping to change the subject.

“Who’s our other roommate?” I asked.

“We don’t have one anymore,” Seth said.

“Anymore?”

“He transferred.”

Another rat.

Seth leaned over the bunk so that his head was just over mine. “Don’t worry,” he insisted with a smile. “We’re not that weird.”

My eyes went right to a golden coin on a necklace that was hanging from his neck, jiggling midair. It was identical to the one Brad was wearing. Something was up with these guys, and with that newspaper. Something was up in St. Lawrence Academy.

3: The Strange Becomes Stranger

“My mom says they’re lying.”

“Bullshit.”

A long-haired, big-boobed brunette and a flat-chested redhead whispered by the bleachers during P.E.

It was my first day, and I had gone through the motions of talking to my teachers about what assignments would transfer and what ones I would make up. None of that was nearly as interesting as the whispers and muffled voices that surrounded me all day long. From what I gathered, everyone knew about this Lawrenceville Slasher that I’d seen in the paper Brad had dropped. I assumed that no one was allowed to talk about it and that was why they all had to do it in such quiet voices. Perhaps that was why Brad and Seth had been so serious. Maybe they were afraid I might report them for finding the paper in our room.

Through my eavesdropping, I learned very quickly that “the night”, “it”, and “the thing” were all codewords for the Lawrenceville Slasher. Contrary to my normal disinterest to the blah blah blah that the kids at school talked about, I wanted to know what this was all about.

“No, it’s true. My cousin’s an officer downtown and says that it’s more like the eleventh or twelfth.”

This was one of the more clever conversations about the Slasher. They didn’t even need a codeword.

“The Lawrenceville Post said it’s only the sixth,” the redhead insisted, in an equally quiet whisper.

“My cousin says that the Mayor is trying to keep everyone from panicking, so he’s telling the papers less, so it won’t look so bad.”

The redhead eyed the brunette suspiciously, as if she didn’t want to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The brunette’s eyes flashed to me. She must have felt my gaze burning against her face. She gave me a furrowed brow to let me know that I wasn’t invited into their little conversation...or anything else for that matter.

Bitch.

“Alright everyone! Huddle up!” Coach Williams came onto the field, carrying a soccer ball. He was a beefy, round man with a face of stubble and a naked scalp. He looked like he was in his late 30s, but a few Twinkies and a pack of Camel had made him age in dog-years. He wasn’t all that different than Coach Michaels at St. Luke’s.

Why do they always make the fat ones P.E. instructors?

We gathered in a circle around him. Seth and Brad, who happened to be in my P.E. class, were standing on the other side of the circle, slightly outside of it. They had been easy to get along with as roommates, mainly because they were rarely ever around. I didn’t know what they were off doing, but I didn’t really care. I liked the privacy, and I was glad to have roommates who didn’t want to be in the same room with me.

They stood next to a small, mousy-looking blond. She had a tiny nose and tiny hands and was about two feet shorter than Brad, making Seth look like he wasn’t all that small. Other than her size, it was interesting seeing her standing next to Brad and Seth. They seemed confident and sur. She looked around uneasily—like she felt uncomfortable about being out around people. I guess if I were a mouse, I would too. No one likes to be stepped on.

Coach Williams divided the circle in equal halves for teams. Seth, Brad, and the mousy girl were put on the opposite team as me.

I wasn’t a big sports guy, and I wasn’t really interested in playing a game. Even for a grade. I was just gonna do what I’d always done in P.E.—go with the crowd and pretend to give a shit.

Coach Williams reffed the game as we went back and forth for a few minutes.

Sweat poured down Brad’s brow. As he raced across the field with Seth, pit stains in his grey shirt grew larger and larger. Brad and Seth had intense gleams in their eyes. Almost everyone else was like me: pathetic. They didn’t give a shit and wanted to get this class over with so they could go home.

Seth and Brad plowed through our team, scoring on us three or four times, regardless of who had the ball to begin with. Seth had the speed. He’d catch up with the ball and swipe it from whoever had it. Or he'd just use his quick and (I’ll admit) impressive foot-play to keep it. Brad acted as the brick wall that anyone who wanted to get to Seth had to get through. So that never happened.

Midway through the hour, Brad and Seth were looking even fiercer than when we'd started. Our teams stood on opposite sides of the field. Brad kicked off to our team, and the brunette backed up to get it. She was the only one on our team that really cared. By the way she played, I figured that she played sports too. She nabbed the ball and headed down the field. Brad was heading straight for her. She headed straight for him, not seeming to be intimidated by his brick muscles. It looked like a game of chicken. One of them was going to have to let up eventually, but who was it going to be? The rage that filled Brad’s eyes made it clear that it wasn’t going to be him, and unless she had been misled about the laws of physics, I was pretty confident that it was going to be her. Her boobs and Brad’s pecks jiggled simultaneously as their bodies’ jetted down the field.

The brunette kicked the ball through Brad’s legs and ran around him. He didn’t have the reflexes to turn around and get it, and the brunette must have known that. What she didn’t anticipate, which I knew she should have, was that Seth was right behind Brad. He kicked the ball right passed her and it flew back towards us. The ball was just a few feet from me. I went for it.

I’ll admit that I was trying to steal some of Seth and Brad’s thunder. After all, what gave them the right to act like they were all high and mighty in a P.E. class. This wasn’t a real game. This was a way of passing the time. I wanted to show them up, or at least give it a shot.

Me and Brad raced to the ball simultaneously. His muscles bobbed up and down under his shirt and the veins in his neck popped forward. I kicked the ball just passed Brad and slipped around him. He was still turning his mega-body around when I caught back up with the ball.

Seth was right there, as I knew he would be, to swipe the ball, but I gave it a quick kick to the other side and chased after it, racing down the field.

Seth was right on my heels. I was running as fast as I could—and maybe even a little faster. I wouldn’t have much chance if I didn’t get this in. We weren’t going to win. That was evident. But I wanted to make it clear that if I wanted to, I could play on the caliber that my two overachieving roommates were playing at.

I neared the goal where the mousy girl was goalie. Her green eyes were big, making me think of the anime eyes from the brochure of the kids from St. Lawrence’s. Of course, she didn’t look nearly as enthusiastic as those kids did. She started to cower as I rapidly approached. I laid into the ball.

POW!

I felt a blow to my ankle, like I’d just kicked a brick.

“SHIT!” I cried out, dropping to my knees.

Seth had come up from the side and kicked my foot, then made off with the ball.

“Goddammit!” I snapped, feeling the sore spot on my ankle.

I turned to see if Coach Williams had noticed Seth’s asshole move. Coach Williams was turned away from the game.

Go figure.

The mousy girl eyed me worriedly. I wasn’t sure if she was worried about my foot or me kicking her friend’s ass. Either way, she needed to be concerned.

Seth made down the field with lightning speed and scored on us. I stood back up, still feeling the sting in my foot and knowing I wasn’t going to be able to walk easily. I ground my teeth and hobbled to the middle of the field, where everyone was huddling.

Brad and Seth high-fived. Brad had that cocked grin like when I’d first seen him. It was even more annoying when it was at my expense. But I had another goal in mind: Seth. I went right for him. I was going to trample his ass and then let Brad trample mine. I must have had some kinda look on my face because as I was passing through the others to get to Seth, I caught a glimpse of the brunette and the redhead, who were staring at me in horror. Yeah. Well, they should have because someone was going to get hurt…real bad.

Seth turned to me and flashed an arrogant smile, his brow raising victoriously. I thought I might start barking like a dog I was so mad. I was just a few feet from him, my eyes fixed and my fists clenched. Brad knew where I was heading and stepped in front of his friend. It was a good day to die.

“Okay kids! Next game!”

Coach Williams slipped right between me and Brad. I froze in place. His massive round body broke my concentration. It was clear by those dumb eyes of his that he was oblivious to what was going down and just wanted to get the next round started.

I could feel my breathing. It was fast and unsteady, a combination of rage and the intense game-play. My face was hot. My muscles relaxed and my adrenaline dipped. It was good that Coach Williams had stepped in when he had. Not that I didn’t want to kick Seth’s ass. I’d just realized that rather than committing suicide by having him and Brad beat the shit out of me, I could get him the same way he had gotten me—in the game.

As our teams split onto our respectful sides, I gave Seth a vengeful look—a warning to let him know that I was coming for him. He stared back at me blankly. It wasn’t that he wasn’t concerned. It was that he wasn’t going to show me that he was.

Everyone on my side of the field stood in their regular positions, expect for the brunette who had stepped off to the back. She knew that I was taking the front for this one. Everyone but Coach Williams knew.

Seth and Brad stood side by side on the other end of the field. Seth watched me with dead-serious eyes.

There was a moment where I thought there should be some humor in all this. After all, it was ridiculous that I wanted to kill this guy over a P.E. soccer game.

Brad kicked off the ball. It soared across the field, went right over my head, and landed by the goal. The brunette came in beside it and whipped her leg around, kicking it straight passed me. I followed behind till I caught up and maneuvered it down the field. Seth was speeding right at me. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make it passed him, as I was still slightly crippled from the blow to my ankle. But I was going to find a way to get him.

We were moving closer and closer. I figured we looked something like the brunette and Brad when they were charging each other with their jiggling body parts.

Soon, he was right in front of me with his attack-dog eyes. He lunged at the ball. I did a quick move and slid past him. He kicked between my legs, pushing the ball out of my reach.

We raced toward it. I turned to see where he was and caught a glimpse of Brad racing at me. He was coming full-force, without any chance for stopping. He was just going to take me down.

I made it to the ball first and kicked it into Brad’s path. Seth leaned to the side to kick it just as Brad rammed into him with everything he had.

CRUNCH CRUNCH!

“FUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKK!!!!”

Seth’s cry echoed across the field as his Brad’s body drove Seth’s heel into the ground. I wasn’t sure what had made that awful crunching sound until I saw the back of Seth’s knee slam into the ground. His shin swung like it was on a hinge so that his tennis shoe almost smacked him in the face. Seth’s eyes winced and his face was red as Brad fell into him. The crunching sound continued like firecrackers till Brad’s body covered Seth’s.

I stared in horror as I could only imagine the condition Seth’s body was now in. What I had thought was going to be an uncomfortable tackle had turned into dismemberment.

I was frozen in place, shivers rushing up and down my spine. Everyone else was the same. They stared motionlessly at Brad and Seth. Even Coach Williams, who I know had to have seen enough accidents in his time as a coach to not be surprised by much was standing with his mouth hung open.

Brad rolled off of Seth. Seth’s jeans were drenched in blood. A sharp thing, that I could only assume was bone, looked like a giant pencil poking out from under the jeans.

The mousy girl raced from the goal toward us. Her eyes were still wide, but now for an entirely different reason.

Coach Williams called an ambulance, and class was dismissed. Brad went with Seth to the hospital. I went back to the dorm. I couldn’t even imagine what Seth had gone through. Sure, I wanted to kick his ass, but I’m not a maniac. I wouldn’t have wished something like that on him.

I lay in my bunk, breathing heavily as that haunting CRUNCH rung in my ears. I was there for hours in the pitch black, wondering what Seth was going to do. Was he going to have to be in a wheelchair? Was he ever going to be able to walk again? Would he blame this all on me? Would dad blame this all on me? My chest was tightening and tightening, like a hand was clawing at it, when I heard a click at the door.

My face went white. It was probably Brad, returning from the hospital. Was he going to be mad as hell? Or was he going to want to kick my face in? Either way, it was going to be awful.

The door opened, revealing a dark silhouette. I knew it wasn’t Brad. It was too small, but there was no way it was Seth.

The silhouette flicked the lights on. It was Seth. He stood in the doorway. He looked completely serene. Like nothing had happened. But there was still that huge stain on his jeans where the blood had been. I lied, propped up in bed, staring at him with my mouth hanging open, just like Coach Williams’ had been on the field.

Seth stared back. “Hey Jason,” he said calmly. He walked into the room.

I felt the color in my face drain even more. I hopped out of bed. It was like seeing a ghost.

“Wha—what?"

Brad had stepped in from the hall. I hardly noticed because I was still so overwhelmed by the sight of Seth.

They stood there, in the doorway, just looking at me.

“Wh—wh—”

“You okay, man?” Seth asked, feigning concern. He was clearly just toying with me, but I was too bewildered to be bothered by it. “You look kinda sick.”

He stepped toward me.

Brad closed the door and locked it. He looked at me, shaking his head with scorn.

A nagging feeling in my stomach made me think I’d just found another rat. But this time, I was sure that I wasn’t going to have a chance to find another.

4: They Don't Fight Fair

“Oh, Jason, Jason, Jason.” Seth made a clicking sound with his tongue as he continued moving toward me.

He looked like a ghost, and it wasn’t my imagination. It was that goddamn pasty skin of his.

Brad walked up from behind him, towering over me seemingly more than usual. They backed me against the window.

“NO! NO!” I insisted. I had to be having a nightmare, because what was happening was impossible. “Your leg?!”

Seth smiled. “What’s wrong with it?”

“I saw it! It ripped off and—”

“You really think I’d be here if my leg had ripped off?”

It felt like my head was going to explode. “No, but you can’t—”

“Look at him,” Brad interrupted, setting his hand on the window and leaning into me so that his nose was two inches from my face. I could feel his hot breath on my lips as he whispered, “He’s really cute when he’s scared.”

My heart raced. Not from the whole douchey Brad in my face thing. More from the whole Seth should still be in ER getting his leg set thing.

Seth got just as close as Brad so that we were all huddled against the window. My breath quickened and my heart sped up as claustrophobia started to kick in.

I glanced at Seth’s jeans. A huge bloodstain with streaks extended down to his shoes, which were covered in a mix of mud and blood. It was the only proof I had to convince myself that I hadn’t made the whole swinging leg bit up.

“Just let me play with him for a while,” Brad said.

His nose brushed across my ear. My head snapped up. He clenched his necklace and stared at me with his eager blue eyes. He bit his lip. It was evident that he wanted to do more than rough me up.

“I think he’d like that,” Seth replied with a giddy smile.

My fear was replaced with rage, but I kept it under control so that we didn’t have another P.E. experience.

“If you’re gonna to do something,” I said through clenched teeth. “Just do it.”

Seth’s lips tightened. He gave me a stern glare. He obviously wasn’t a fan of people challenging his authority.

“No, Jason,” he insisted. “You wouldn’t like that.”

We stared each other down.

He made a fist and took a quick step at me. My back arched, chest tensed, and fists clenched as my body went into defense mode.

Seth chuckled. He shook his head.

False alarm.

“You’re not worth my shit,” he said. He whipped around and headed for the door.

My testosterone kicked in, and I went at him fists-first.

He turned back, holding his necklace. He stared into my eyes. He didn’t look even a little concerned about my attack. I was sure it was because he thought Brad was going to bail him out, but at the speed I was going, there was no way even Brad was going to be able to pull me off before I got a few good face shots in.

Seth’s brow was cocked, like he was challenging me to take my best shot.

I swung. It was going to be nice to knock him and that stupid brow to the floor.

Just as my fist was about to make contact with his pasty flesh, a powerful force pulled me from behind and threw me back. Not just a little throw. My body flew into the air and my back slammed into the window so hard that I was surprised I didn’t hear it crack. Not the window—my back.

Damn Brad’s quick, I thought.

But Brad was standing beside me, his arms folded, a snarky grin on his face.

Seth stood a few feet from me, like he was still waiting for me to make a move.

I looked around, trying to figure out how I’d ended up against the window. An odd realization hit me. I was taller than Brad and much taller than Seth. I looked to my feet. I was literally hovering over the half-dressers between our bunks.

I tried to take a step forward. My foot didn’t budge. I was practically glued to the window.

My arms were stretched out, my wrists pressed against the glass just like my feet. I struggled to get one of my arms free. I pushed and pushed, but it was like I had a 700 pound weight tied to my wrist. I inched my hand forward till my muscles gave, and it flew back against the glass.

What the hell was going on?

I turned back to Seth. He had a knowing glare in his eyes.

Shit.

My entire sense of reality crumbled. I was right. Seth’s leg had fallen apart. I didn’t know how or why, but Seth had some sort of power. Maybe it was witchcraft, or superpowers, or tele-whatever, but he had something out of this world, and at that moment, he was using it against me.

Seth didn’t move, just watched me struggle.

A breeze wisped passed my face and pushed my head against the window. I could feel the back of my skull swelling. A force wrapped around my throat and tightened. I’d seen a special on the Discovery Channel where a boa constrictor wrapped around a bird’s neck and strangled it to death. It felt like I had a giant boa constrictor around my neck. My pulse pushed into my jaw. I tried to force a breath, but only managed to make a hissing sound.

“I know you’re new here,” Seth said patronizingly. “But I’m sure you’re a fast learner.”

I tried to look at him, but the boa-constrictor force was pushing my face up toward the ceiling.

“We own this school. And we don’t take crap from anyone. So if you mess with me or Brad, you’re dead. Got it?”

I was starting to see those little green and grey blobs—the ones that I used to see when I was little and held my breath with my friends to see who could do it the longest. My face felt like it was on fire. I wondered if it was all due to lack of oxygen, or if part of it was from sheer rage. Either way, I needed air. I needed it bad.

“I’m sorry,” Seth said. “I asked you a question. Do you understand?”

Here I was, powerless and desperate for air, and he was just rubbing it in. He loved watching me squirm. And that made me hate him.

“Brad, did you hear an answer in there?”

“Nope.”

Tears filled my eyes. It felt like my head was going to pop off, or my brain was going to squirt out my ear. I continued trying to breathe, but the closest I could get was a limp wheezing sound.

“You know, Jason, you really shouldn’t let your pride—”

KNOCK! KNOCK!

Seth and Brad turned to the door.

In an instant, all the force and power that I had been struggling so hard against dissolved. My body dropped. My knee and ankle hit the dresser, and I went rolling onto the floor.

I coughed a loud, obnoxious, dry cough. Not the kind of cough you do when you need to clear your throat. The kind you do when you’re lungs don’t know what the hell’s going on.

I took my first good breath of air. A wonderful sense of ease rippled through my body.

Seth stood by the door, his body tense. “Who is it?”

“Me,” came a little voice from the other side.

Seth relaxed. He opened the door.

As I forced more air into my confused lungs, the mousy girl from P.E. entered. She looked back and forth between Seth and Brad uneasily.

“What do you want?” Seth asked.

“I—ah—I—” She struggled, like she’d forgotten what she’d come there for. “I just wanted to check in to make sure you were okay.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

The mousy girl looked to the floor. In all the time that she’d stood there, she hadn’t looked at me once, despite the fact that I was making such a big, over-dramatic scene with my breathing and feeling my knee and ankle to make sure they were okay. Rats, rats, rats. That’s all this school seemed to have were rats.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure.”

Seth took a breath and gave her a hug. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just been a long day.”

She nodded. “Sorry,” she iterated. “I was just worried.”

Seth brushed his face through her hair. “It’s okay. It’s okay,” he said. It was like watching a Dad giving his little girl a hug after her first boo boo.

He pulled back, looked her in the eyes. “Thank you,” he said. It was the most sincere thing I’d heard come out of his mouth since I’d known him. Had everything else that had happened not left my stomach feeling unsettled, that would have made me want to gag.

She smiled one of those uncomfortable “I’m not really okay, but I know you want me to be, so I’ll just go with it” smiles. She still hadn’t looked over at me.

Seth gave her another hug and kissed her on the forehead. “You okay?”

She nodded, but something in her gaze made me feel like she wasn’t. And the suspicious look in Seth’s eyes made me think that he wasn’t buying her nods and smiles either.

My eyes widened as I noticed a shiny gold-coin hanging from a necklace she was wearing. It was identical to the ones Brad and Seth wore!

“Okay,” Seth said. “Now, hurry back to the girl’s dorms. You don’t want to get caught sneaking around over here and tarnish your perfect angel record, do you?”

Brad snickered, and Seth smiled broadly.

“‘Night,” she said. “‘Night, Brad.”

“Later.”

She turned back to the hall but flashed me a quick glance. Her green eyes shimmered in the fluorescent lights. Seth shut the door and locked it.

I was on my knees, looking up to see if they were going to continue abusing me with whatever power they had. I didn’t think I could take much more.

Seth sighed. He looked to Brad. “Well I’m beat.” He passed me by the bunk and climbed up to his bed.

Brad smiled at me. He stepped forward and bent down till his face was right in mine, just like it had been at the window. “So which eye you gonna keep open?” he asked, flashing his perfect teeth. He gave a little wink and patted me on the head.

A rush of heat spiraled up my spine to my face, but I didn’t dare make a move. I wasn’t going to be an idiot and get myself killed. Instead, I was determined to get to the bottom of all this, and when some of it even started to remotely make sense to me, Seth and Brad were going to pay.

Brad turned out the light. I crawled into bed. I didn’t sleep that night, but it was clear by Brad’s obnoxious snoring that it didn’t matter which eye I kept open.

My rational mind and my memory of being pressed up against that window warred throughout the night. I wanted there to be a logical explanation. There was no way that was possible. I tried to pretend that I’d just imagined the whole thing, but I knew better. Brad and Seth had some sort of power that had A) made Seth’s leg perfectly fine after Brad had crushed it under his weight, B) thrown me to the wall, and C) nearly choked me to death. Then there was the one other thought. The mousy girl. Who was she and what did she have to do with all this?

I was too rattled to sort through any of it for answers. One thing I knew: I was going to get these bastards, but it was going to take some time.

5: A Good Swim

I wasn’t an idiot. I knew what was going to happen if I stuck a knife into an electric socket. But that wasn’t going to keep me from doing it.

“Have you heard about Seth?” I asked the brunette from P.E.

Evidently, she was in my American Lit class. I’d seen her as I’d walked into the class, sitting with one of her girlfriends in the back corner. They were dressed in those goddamn black uniform blazers that cover up girls' chests. They made the brunette’s girlfriend, with a bowl cut and bizarrely large nostrils, look even more flat-chested than she probably already was. Even with the constraint, the brunette’s boobs were fine. They pushed her blazer forward, making a nice curve. I’d been fortunate enough to have seen her in gym clothes the day before, strutting her girls, so I knew what they were capable of. But it was a shame that uniforms had to ruin perfectly wonderful breasts. And boobs weren’t the only thing uniforms ruined. I had to keep doing an awkward crotch pull-down whenever my slacks decided to ride up on me.

As I’d approached the brunette, I’d heard her giving her flat-chested girlfriend the scoop about what had gone down in P.E. the day before. I had wisely cut in. With all the gossipy circles the brunette must have been a part of, I was sure she knew Seth was okay, but she was the kind of girl that was open to any new perspectives on the latest, most exciting topic. Her on and on voice had come to a quick halt, and she’d turned right to me. Even under that blazer, I could tell her boobs were doing a nice little jiggle.

“No. What?!” she sped-asked. Her big, brown eyes lit up with a false concern and a very real excitement.

She’d taken my bait.

Sucker.

“He’s fine. Evidently, he’s double jointed or somethin’. Came back to the dorm last night.”

Her eyes dulled. She was incredibly disappointed by my lack of intel.

“But hey,” I said in my least cunning of ways. “You don’t happen to know that girl who was the goalie for Brad and Seth’s team, do ya?”

Her eyes lit up again. I’d seen that look before. It’s that look girls get when they think they have dirt on you. Claire, the counselor at St. Luke, used to get it all the time after every sentence I said.

Why?” she asked in an eager, melodic voice. Something about the way she said it and that awkward gleam in her eyes made it clear that she thought I was trying to hook up with that girl. And that was fine by me. It was better for her to think that than know the truth.

I felt my pants riding up, but bit my lip. Now was not the time for an adjustment. “I dunno,” I played, acting like she’d caught me in my interest for the mousy goalie girl. “Just curious.”

She grinned. “Her name is Carrie Morgan. I could totally talk to her for you, if you wanted.” She was a pro at this game. She must have been trying for Class Matchmaker.

“No, no, no,” I insisted. If that got back to Brad and Seth, I was a dead man.

She was caught off guard by my insistence. By the look she gave me, I figured I might as well have reached down and made my adjustment.

“I mean…I would rather do this myself,” I said, covering up my motive.

She bought it. She straightened her neck. Her head and boobs gave nods of approval, as if they were pleased to see a guy who was willing to be bold.

“My name’s Megan, by the way.”

“Jason,” I replied, not really in the mood for introductions. I just wanted to get to my desk and wiggle my pants down.

She smiled. It was a radical transformation from the stone-cold glare she’d given me the day before when she’d caught me eavesdropping on her gossip about the Lawrenceville Slasher.

“Nice to meet you, Jason.”

So…the mousy girl’s name was Carrie Morgan. Why was this so important? Because I had a plan. I was going to get to the bottom of this whole Seth and Brad having superpowers thing, but I couldn’t just snoop around right after they’d kicked my butt. They’d know something was up. So I made the mousy girl my target. She knew what was going on, and maybe she could lead me to answers. What I was going to do with those answers was another subject altogether. At the least, I was going to find a way to keep Seth and Brad from being douches to me for the rest of the school year. At the most, I was going to kick their asses and make them pay. But I wasn’t going to be stupid about it.

Clearly by this point, my rational mind had lost the battle about what had happened the night before. I’d been up all night, tossing and turning, and trying to make sense of it. But I’d given up trying to pretend it was all some illusion or a figment of my imagination. I was crazy, but not like that.

****


The whispers about the Lawrenceville Slasher had died down, and St. Lawrence was starting to seem just like any other school. Everyone was trying to figure out who liked who, make it to class before the bell, and get an A in Trig (except those guys who’d settle for a C). I would have preferred if things had just stayed weird. At least then I knew there was a reason why Seth and Brad were freaks. Now it was starting to seem like they were the anomaly.

That afternoon, after P.E., I followed Carrie to her locker. I stalked the fountain across the hall. A few guys passed like they were about to get some water, but then noticed me, got very concerned looks on their faces, and moved right along. They must have thought it was odd how peculiarly close I was to the fountain without any interest in taking a drink. I was going to have to be less obvious.

Carrie wasn’t that much to look at. She was pretty plain. Her long hair covered the sides of her face, and her oversized blazer amplified her tiny figure. She organized her books in her backpack, and then headed off.

I tailed her to the school clinic. She went in and didn’t come out for a while. I figured she either had a debilitating disease, was doing an afterschool program, or had figured out I was following her and had gone there for safety. Although, I didn’t really think it was the last one. If I had, I woulda been outta there.

After about ten minutes, I realized I couldn’t just mosey around the hall till she came out. First off, she would recognize me and tell Seth and Brad. Second off, if a teacher saw me, they’d think I was up to no good (which was pretty much the truth). About two halls down was a door that led out to the main courtyard. Hoping it would be the one she would use when she left, I went out, found a corner that was concealed by two overgrown Leyland cypresses. Behind the cypresses, a flat bench made of concrete rested against the stone wall. I sat and pretended to do homework, while staying out of anyone’s view. All the work I was doing to avoid being caught made me feel like a detective.

It was two hours before Carrie came out. She looked over some papers as she made her way through the courtyard.

Damn!

She was a lot cuter than she’d been before she’d gone in. She’d tied her dirty blond hair in a ponytail, so now I could see her face. Her big green eyes were placed perfectly apart on either side of her mousy little nose. And her lips were longer than I’d noticed. She’d taken off her uniform and was wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt and jeans, both which accentuated her curves. She didn’t have much of a rack, but with hips like hers, she didn’t need it.

Uniforms are the devil!

I followed her to the girl’s dormitory. Now that she looked so good, I felt less like a detective and more like a stalker.

I found another concealed bench in the much smaller courtyard outside the girl’s dormitory. I figured St. Lawrence must have a pretty high rape stat, considering the multitude of hiding places and the lack of security.

Another two hours passed. And then another hour before I realized she probably wasn’t coming outta there. I went back to my room. Brad and Seth were off doing whatever, and I was asleep before they came back.

The weekend came and went, and then the next week I continued following Carrie. She went to the clinic every day. I found out from Megan that she volunteered there. Evidently, Megan was going to be a lot more useful than I’d given her credit.

By the third day of stalking Carrie to the clinic and then to the girl’s dormitory, I realized that it just wasn’t working. Her two locales of interest were not going to help me figure out what she, Seth, and Brad were up to. And at that point, it wasn’t such a big deal. Even Brad and Seth were starting to normalize. They were too preoccupied with their own lives to have time to bother me, except Brad’s occasionally harassing me in P.E or saying something snarky when he first came into our room. I guess they figured I wasn’t going to mess with them after they’d shown me they were in charge. We didn’t talk, kept to ourselves, and stayed the hell away from our room as much as possible. We were just like normal roomies.

It was dark out by the time I’d decided to call it a night. I’d hidden behind some bushes after sunset. I knew if I got caught, I was going to look like some kinda rapist, but no one was out.

I pulled my phone out of my bag. It was 9:30—the latest I’d staked out to date and well passed curfew. Carrie wasn’t going anywhere this late. No one was. There weren’t even night watchmen or curfew-Nazi faculty members snooping around for rule breakers. That suddenly reawakened the oddness of St. Lawrence. Even at St. Luke’s, which was a step down from the prissiness of St. Lawrence, had high security when it came to keeping curfew. Why was no one checking to make sure everyone was staying in? And if no one really was checking, why the hell were the girls and guys not just walking back and forth between the dorms?

I wondered if it had something to do with the Lawrenceville Slasher. Maybe no one was dumb enough to go outside. No one but me, of course.

The air was cool. For once, my uniform blazer proved to be useful.

I looked around to make sure no one would see, then hopped up from behind the bushes.

CLICK!

I ducked back down, peered through the bush's leaves.

A high lamp on the other side of the courtyard revealed the silhouette of a girl climbing out a window on the first floor. She jumped down. Even with just her shadowy figure, I recognized that adorable little ponytail.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

She looked around uneasily, clinging to her necklace. She mumbled to herself.

A noise startled me from behind, made my heart race. My head instinctively jolted to it.

Holy shit.

A chipmunk scurried through a patch of ivy. What a letdown. I held my hand to my chest as I tried to regulate my heart rate back to normal.

I turned as quickly as I could back to Carrie. But she was already gone. My mouth hung open.

That was fast.

I rushed out from the bushes, looking every way. No sign of Carrie. But where could she have run off to that quickly?

It was weird, but it didn’t help me. I headed back to the boy’s dormitory and found the 'secret entrance.' In case you’re wondering, it exists at every private school. It’s the common area that everyone uses to sneak in and out through. For the boy’s dormitory, it was a broken lock on a window to a storage room on the first floor. I’d been a little worried on account that I hadn’t seen anyone else sneaking around. But fortunately, some things never change.

****


Coach Williams blew the whistle, and a game of indoor volleyball began.

I had accidentally been on the wrong half of the huddle when Coach Williams had made the teams, so I’d ended up on Brad and Seth’s side of the net. Brad thought it’d be real funny to be an ass. He knocked into me and jammed his elbow into my shoulder every chance he got. The further I got from him, the more out of his way he went to slam into me. He was wearing his pit-stained shirt and what looked like a pair of daisy duke sweat shorts. They probably would have looked normal sized on me, but for Brad they were tiny by no accident. He was strutting those cleverly sculpted, massive thigh muscles of his. God, I wanted to kick his ass.

Most of the other guys and girls were in shorts too. Me and Seth were the only ones wearing jeans. I didn’t know Seth’s logic, but I just liked wearing pants that weren’t those crotch hugging regulation slacks.

Megan was on the other team. Her assets gave me a little show while she jumped around the court. Every once in a while, she’d look over and smile at me like I was her new bff.

Carrie moved around a bit, trying to at least act like she cared. Other than Megan’s boobs, Carrie’s legs were the only other good part of the game. I thought it was funny that I had gone from not really giving a shit about her to steadily becoming more and more interested. Claire wouldn’t have liked it. She would have said it had something to do with following her. That I was making her more of an object than a person, or some psycho-bullshit like that. On second thought, when did I become such a creep?

While Brad harassed me and played a good game, he managed to send a few smiles and a not-so-subtle wink to this guy on the other team—Max, or Matt, or Mark. I didn’t remember, but he was in a few of my other classes. He had short dark-brown hair and was athletic looking, but not as much as Brad. Max or whatever couldn’t help but smile back. I shivered. The thought that someone could actually like that douche was unbelievable.

As the game ensued, I not-so-cleverly evaded wherever I thought the ball was going to be, which kept Brad away because he wanted to be in the middle of the game.

Megan got a good shot and hit the ball right over the net. It came at me. I was ready to give it a pop back over, and I figured I could get it pretty fast. Just as I was about to, I caught a glimpse of Brad’s massive body out of the corner of my eye. Next thing I knew, my nose felt like it was going to explode, and I fell on my back.

My hands instinctively rushed to my face’s aid. Blood poured down my fingers.

Dammit.

That asshole had elbowed me.

Blood spewed out my nostrils.

The game stopped. Everyone surrounded me. By the look on Megan’s face, you woulda thought what had happened to Seth a few days earlier had just happened to me. Seth stood next to her, his lips curling upward, like he was holding back a very pleased grin. I wanted to give him a bloody nose.

Coach Williams hobbled over, his hands on his gorged waist, his eyes wincing.

Brad stepped before me, breathing hard. A thick mess of sweat rushed down his face. “Dude, are you okay? I’m sorry,” he mocked with a wink very different from the one he’d given Matt or whoever.

“It’s alright,” Coach Williams insisted. “These things happen.”

Yeah, I thought, Whenever Brad’s around.

“West, come on. Bradley! Watch the hell where you’re going!”

Coach Williams took me to his office. He left me there and went back to the gym to finish up class. It took at least thirty minutes and two boxes of tissues before the bleeding started to slow down. When Coach Williams came back, he looked at me through his still winced eyes. I wondered if his eyes had ended up that way from being in the sun so much and having to wince to see what was happening on the field. If so, I was going to start wearing sunglasses more often.

“Yep, you and Seth need to watch out for the big kids like Bradley,” he said in a gruff, bark-of-a-voice.

For so many other reasons than you know.

“Now, I’m gonna go ahead and get to soccer practice. You get showered up and head outta here when you’re done.”

Class had been over for a while, so I was the only one in the showers, or the gym for that matter. Two fluorescent lights were out. One was starting to flicker. My solitary stream of water clapped against the tile floor. I’d never noticed how eerily quiet and dark the showers were till then.

I’d been in the shower for about three minutes, and the water was still fairly cold. Normally I woulda been pissed that it wasn’t warming up. Not today. The chill rush across my back and down my legs was nice. I moved my head in circles, letting the water massage each part of my face.

From my nose out to my cheeks, I felt sore.

Asshole.

As if having awesome powers wasn’t enough, Brad and Seth had to be regular bullies too. I fantasized about how nice it was going to be to get back at them, but I knew that was all it was…a fantasy. Stalking Carrie around school wasn’t getting me anything except maybe a little crush. It would be easier to get Dad to transfer me to another school. But that was a joke. There was no way he was going to transfer me just cause I didn’t like it here or even because I wasn’t getting along with some of the guys. And there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to tell him what was really going on. Yeah, then I’d be transferred straight to the asylum in Milledgeville.

CLICK!

A distinct noise came from the locker room. It startled me, but I figured the guy in charge of the lights and the guy in charge of maintenance were one and the same, so there were probably a lot of creaks in the building.

Disregarding it, I rubbed some soap on my face, scrubbing it in good to make sure to get off all the blood. A quick pain tore into my eye, like a wasp sting right in the corner.

“Fuck!”

I dropped the soap and pressed the back of my hand against my eyelid. It burned like hell. I put my eye in the path of the water, trying to rinse the soap out, but I must’ve gotten a lot in, cause the burning was too intense for me to open it.

SLAM!

I jumped out of the shower, turned to the door.

It sounded like someone had slammed a locker shut. But wasn’t I the only one there?

The janitor?

Or maybe Coach Williams had come back for something. Of course, my real worry was that it was Brad wanting another round. I couldn’t continue my shower without a quick investigation.

With my eye sealed shut, a nagging stinging sensation covering my face and now also in my eye, I threw on my jeans, and headed out the door, into the locker room.

The lingering cold water from my chill shower amplified the already freezing air.

Who the hell turned the air down?

My hairs stood on end. The cement floor was like ice. It was weird how cold it was, but I was more concerned about someone being in there with me, especially if that someone was Seth or Brad. I looked around. No one.

Out of the peripheral of my working eye, I caught a shadow. I turned, hoping to catch whoever or whatever it was. Just a closed door that led to the restroom.

I walked through the locker room, my teeth chattering. I went in the restroom and checked the stalls to see if anyone was hiding in them. They were empty.

Everything was fine. I was about to head back to the showers, but before I did, I gave myself a quick check in the mirror.

Water dripped from my wet, black hair. My hair was normally dark-brown, but it always looked black when it was wet. I brushed my hand through it. One of those vain moves that I do whenever I pass a mirror, just to get it moving to the direction I like.

The dripping water moved down my forehead, through my bushy eyebrows, which were just as dark as my hair. It scattered down my round, baby-face. I envied guys like Brad who had nice, sharp edges. They looked so intense, where I still looked like a kid.

Standing in just my jeans, all wet and shiny, I felt sorta like one of those jean models that you see on posters. Well, not a real one obviously. I was no muscle-bound Brad, but I liked my body. Contrary to my face, my pecks were squared off with sharp edges. My biceps were arched with clear lines dividing them from my triceps and the rest of my arm. I guess I was naturally muscular, cause I sure as hell didn’t do anything to get them...unless opening doors and getting dressed counted as exercise.

I had a flat stomach with smooth lines indicating where my abs were. I figured if I had done some sit-ups, I would have easily had a six pack but that wasn’t going to happen. A spread of black hair covered my chest and stomach. Wasn’t much. And it added to the whole me feeling like a kid thing, cause it made me look like I was still going through puberty.

My nipples were hard from the chill air. As I breathed, my square pecks pushed out and my flat stomach pulled in. The top of my jeans were soaked from having collected all the water that was dripping down my body.

I started to head back into the showers, but stopped.

A faint jingling sound had caught my attention. Like rattling metal. I looked around uneasily. It was softer than the sounds before, and as I tried to trace where it was coming from, it stopped.

I had checked everywhere else, so the pool was the only other option. I went to the door leading out of the restrooms, swung it open slightly, and peered down the angled hall. Outside the hall, daylight shone through large windows under the ceiling, lighting up the pool. There was something very reassuring about the sunlight.

“Coach Williams?!” I called out.

I waited. No answer.

As I took a breath, I saw the misty air leaving my mouth. I’d known it was cold, but not that cold.

I walked out to the pool, scanning the scene. I could just imagine Seth and Brad popping out from around the corner and kicking my ass.

No one was around the pool, but an uneasiness lingered in my chest.

I’m getting the hell out of here.

I turned to make a quick run back to the showers for my clothes.

A black mass came at me and slammed into my face. I dropped to the floor.

By the intensity of the blow, I knew it had to be Brad. He must have been hiding in the locker rooms. Before I had a chance to get a look at him, my legs were pulled into the air and something gripped around my ankle.

Next, I was being dragged across the floor. I felt the cement tear into my back as I was forced across it.

“FUCK!” I screamed.

I grabbed around for something to hold onto when—

SPLASH!I was pulled right into the pool. It wasn’t that cold, considering how freezing my shower and the locker room had been. But it was still a hell of a shock.

Fuckin’ asshole!

I was going to kill Brad for this.

As I was being forced through the water, I paddled hard to keep my head from going under.

The grip on my leg loosened, and my body came to a halt. I whipped my head around.

My attacker was at the edge of the pool, in a black cloak with a hood—the classic Death look that all the killers in the movies do. I figured it was a lame-ass costume but one of the only ones someone as big as Brad could fit into.

He knelt by one of the ladders on the side of the pool. A long chain was coiled around his shoulder. The end of it hung down into the water. My eyes flashed to my ankle, which I realized was wrapped in the same chain.

“Shit,” I said. This was a lot more serious than bullying. Brad was crazy!

He hopped to his feet and yanked the chain with a force that ripped me underwater. I went flying to the edge of the pool. I’d gone fishing a few times when I was little, and for the first time, I knew what it felt like to be the fish being torn to shore.

My shoulder slammed against the ladder.

I grabbed onto the ladder rungs and raced up. As my head came above the water, I took a deep breath of air. My eyes struggled to adjust. One was still burning from soap, and the other was now filled with pool chemicals.

I felt the curve of the top of the ladder and had a moment of relief, when a hand grabbed me by the hair.

Brad pushed me back down, slamming my forehead into a rung on the way under. I could feel my head starting to swell. I was sure my entire face was going to be in severe pain by the end of the day.

He held me underwater. I struggled uselessly as hundreds of bubbles shot out my nose. A dark shadow flashed by, then the chain went passed my face and behind my ear. The chain slipped down and tightened around my throat. Brad’s hand pulled my hair till my head was back against the side of the ladder. I could feel the chain tightening.

Brad was tying my neck to the ladder!

I’m gonna drown!

My mind raced nearly as fast as my heart. I wondered what it was going to be like for Dad to be told that I’d been murdered at the school he’d shipped me off to. I hoped he’d feel like shit and wished that he’d spent more time with me. I hoped that he’d give a damn, but I doubted it. Then I wondered why Brad was trying to kill me. Didn’t take me long to figure that one out. They must have known that I was following Carrie around after school. Fuck me and my awful snooping. That bitch had probably seen me and told them. That’s why they’d been such asses in P.E. Damn her for telling them. And damn Brad for killing me!

After having this moment of reflection, all the while flailing about desperately, I stopped struggling. My chest tightened as my body demanded air. My head felt like it was being inflated. I didn’t have much time before I went unconscious. I rest my head against the ladder. Was this really going to be how I was going to die?

6: I'll Kill You

The taut, rusty chain pressed my neck against the side of the ladder. I needed air, but that wasn’t in my foreseeable future. I could feel blood rushing to my head. I thought if it didn’t stop, the back of my skull was going to blow off.

The chain ran from around the ladder, up through the surface of the water, to a blurred image of the black cloaked Brad. He stood on the deck. From what I could make out, he had the chain wrapped around his forearm, tugging to keep it tight around my neck.

It was one of those thick chains that you see Rottweilers and Doberman pinchers tied up with, so breaking it wasn’t an option. I had an idea, but the odds of it working against someone Brad’s size seemed slim.

The tight chain hung just over my head. I braced my legs against the wall, grabbed onto the chain with both hands, and yanked at it with everything I had (which by this point, wasn’t much). The black cloaked asshole held strong. My neck was still locked against the side of the ladder, but the yank had given me a little slack.

I pulled even harder. My biceps tensed, pulsated. I dug my legs into the wall. My thighs tightened. Every muscle in my body was either stiff or twitching. It reminded me of a few weeks in P.E. back at St. Luke when we’d done weight training. Everyone had to lift a certain amount and do X number of reps for their weight class, and then we were graded for it. It had been three weeks of moaning and making odd grunting sounds as we struggled to contort our muscles to get those barbells just a little higher. I remembered how tense and stiff my muscles had been mid-lifting, and it felt the same now. Though the real familiarity was my throbbing skull and clenched jaw. The only difference was that, in P.E. if I couldn’t lift the weight, I got a C. If I couldn’t this time, I was dead.

I inched Brad closer and closer to the edge of the pool. It was a tug-o-war for my life, and I wasn’t going to lose. I felt the chain around my neck loosen, but I kept pulling at it and pressing my legs harder into the wall, knowing that I may only have one shot.

The chain loosened some more. I kept one hand firmly on the chain and used the other to try and maneuver the chain up my neck and head. It was a tight squeeze. The rusty links scraped across my cheeks and tore at my ears and scalp, but I was in so much pain by this point that the sting didn’t feel nearly as bad as I thought it should. I pulled the last bit over my head.

I was free!

I kicked off the wall and went shooting out of the water, taking an enormous, well-deserved breath. It still felt like the chain was around my neck, restricting my breathing. But I had enough air to keep me from passing out.

I reveled in my victory. It was amazing to be above water again—something that for a little while I thought might never happen again.

A tug on my ankle reminded me that the other part of the chain was still tied to it. Back under I went. I was ripped back to the edge of the pool. I wasn’t worried anymore, though. Just mad as hell. Brad had had the upper hand before because he had caught me off guard. Now it was his rage vs. mine. And I knew that mine was going to win.

He reached his hand down to grab me by the hair. I caught hold of his arm and kicked off the wall. He fell in.

While he flailed about, I swam to the edge of the pool and pulled myself out. I scrambled on my belly across the cement and took some quick, frenzied breaths. My body was doing its best to compensate for the lost oxygen. My muscles and nerves were either stinging or throbbing or both, but I was so happy to be outta that pool that I didn’t care.

I was facing the wall. Loud splashing sounds were the only thing letting me know that Brad was still struggling in the water. Heat rushed to my face. Not the loss-of-oxygen heat that I was dealing with before. More like uninhibited rage coming over me.

I’m gonna kill him.

I was about to get up and prepare for the fight of my life, when a loud, roaring—

“ROW! ROW!”

—filled the air. It sounded like an animal. Not something like a rabbit or a squirrel. More like a lion. On second thought, it was probably more like a t-rex.

I turned back to the pool.

A mangled, skeleton-thin hand reached out of the water. It was covered in wrinkled, grey flesh and had yellow fingernails nearly the size of the finger. And on the flesh—if that’s what you could call it—were these brown and green blisters that made the hand look like it was covered in colored golf balls.

What the hell?

The hand sprung forward, grabbed hold of my jeans, and pulled. My eyes widened in horror as I realized this wasn’t Brad—it wasn’t even human.

It pulled at my jeans again. The strength of the pull was so strong it yanked me back towards the pool.

Oh no. Not again!

I kicked the contorted hand off my foot. Goosebumps crawled up my back. It was like that feeling I got walking into spiderwebs—like I had to rub my hands all over my body to make sure I got it all off.

I scooted back till I was against the wall. My hands tried to keep sliding back.

In the pool, the black cloak floated to the surface of the water. Another hand, just as disgusting as the first, reached out and grabbed onto the side of the pool. My mind went berserks. First Brad and Seth had superpowers, and now there was this…this monster. A part of my mind told me this was impossible. It was the same part of my mind that had tried to convince me that the idea of Seth and Brad having superpowers was ridiculous. Another part of my mind told me to get the hell out of there. I knew which one I was going to listen to.

I hopped to my feet and raced to the gym doors. As I pushed them open, I turned back and saw the black cloaked creature halfway out of the pool, clawing at the cement floor as it pulled the rest of its body out.

I was outta there.

My mind raced in a million directions, but there was only one thing I could think to do. I didn’t know what this creature wanted, or what it was capable of. But whatever it was, it had something to do with Brad and Seth. And Carrie Morgan was going to help me whether she liked it or not.

I hid behind the Leyland cypresses in the courtyard, waiting for Carrie to leave the clinic. I’d had a hard time getting there. I was still in nothing but jeans, which was practically nude at a uniform-regulated private school. I’d crept through halls, hid in stairways, restrooms, corners, and empty classrooms till I made it. The school was pretty dead, but it was early enough that there was still the occasional teacher or student running an errand. I blushed at the idea of someone finding me. That’d give me a great rep. Though, to be honest, the only thing that really worried me at this point was that that black cloaked creature would come back after me…and next time, it’d be real pissed.

I’d thought about going back to the boy’s dormitory for clothes, but that was a joke. First off, this time of day, it was going to be packed with guys going in and out, and as much as I wanted to be humiliated by every guy in my class, I decided to pass. Second off, if Seth and Brad had been responsible for that creature attacking me (which I was sure they were), then I wasn’t just going to walk into our room armed with nothing more than a wink and “Howdy.”

My teeth chattered. It was just as cold out there as it had been in the locker room, and being drenched in pool water didn’t help. It made me mad, cause every other day I’d followed Carrie had been fine.

This sucks, I thought for so many reasons other than the chill.

Three guys headed through the courtyard, laughing their asses off and giving each other knuckle-knocks and high-fives. They were oblivious to the fact that there was an 8ft monster recovering in the gym, probably still hungry since it hadn’t managed to feed on me.

I waited in the cold for thirty minutes. The only thing I could think about was that monster—how sure I’d been that it’d been Brad, its hideous wrinkled hands, and that deep, roar-of-a-sound.

The door swung open and out walked Carrie with her hair in that cute little ponytail. She was taking small, relaxed steps as she went about her normal routine. I was sure that she knew what Brad and Seth had done to me, so it pissed me off watching her be all la-dee-da.

She wasn’t looking over papers like usual. Instead, she was looking straight ahead, without a care in the world. She was as oblivious of me as I had been to the creature in the locker room.

I gave a quick check to make sure no one was coming, then sprang from my hiding place. I hadn’t realized how far away she was, but it felt like I was running toward her for a while before I got to her. I went up behind her, wrapped my arm around, and covered her mouth with my hand. I used my other arm to restrain her. She tried to scream, but didn’t manage much more than a muffled whimper out of that mousy mouth of hers. She struggled as much as she could, but it was like fighting an eight-year-old. I picked her up and carted her over to my little corner, checking around frantically to make sure no one had caught me in the act. Not a soul in sight.

Damn, is it this easy to be a rapist? I wondered.

I sat on the cement bench behind the cypresses and forced her down beside me. I pressed my mouth against her ear and whispered in my most guttural voice “Okay, bitch. You better tell me what the fuck is going on.”

Her hand reached up for her gold coin necklace. I don’t know why, but my instincts kicked in, and I ripped it right off. I threw it in the bushes. She tried to scream through her nose, but it was just as mousy as the first one she’d attempted.

“Shut up!” My tone was severe, but my voice was low. I couldn’t have someone hear my anger and come running to Carrie’s aid.

She whimpered and made a whiny sound. By the way she was fussing, you would have thought I was actually going to rape her. Then again, she didn’t know any better.

I had her, but I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do now. I needed to get her to tell me what the fuck was going on, but it wasn’t like I could just release her mouth and let her scream to the whole school. There wasn’t anyone in sight, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t some overworked faculty member moseying around, hunting for trouble. That woulda been real good. I wondered how much time you did for assault and attempted rape.

She breathed uneasily through her mousy nose. I hadn’t figured what I was going to do when I actually got her. I had to get her somewhere we could talk. A quick solution sprang to mind.

“Hey!” I said, commanding her attention. “Is there anyone in the clinic right now?”She tilted her head back to see me. Her big green eyes were red and teary. It made me feel bad for a moment, but I tried to shut out my emotions just as I had shut out my logic.

She shook her head “no”.

“Do you have keys?”

She hesitated, like she was running through her women’s self defense class to figure out what she was supposed to say. She was a shitty liar because she hadn’t given an answer, but I knew she had them.

Sweat dripped from my nose onto her forehead. I hadn’t realized, but keeping her still was a little bit of a workout. Either that, or I was just really overworked.

“Okay,” I whispered. “You are going to fucking take me in there right now. And if you do anything to get anyone’s attention, or to get away, I swear to fucking God I’ll kill you. I swear to God. Understand?”

She didn’t think this time, just nodded. A tear ran down her cheek. Though it might have been another drop of my sweat. I couldn’t tell and wasn’t paying that much attention.

“Where are the keys?”

She bobbed her head back. I hadn’t noticed till then, but her backpack was crammed against my stomach.

I clutched her face tight against my chest while I used my other hand to ransack the side and front pockets. I found a keychain with about seven or eight keys. Dangling off the end of it was a little metal square with a sticker of cartoon kittens on it. It made me feel a little bad about how aggressive I was being. But I didn’t have time to be nice.

I peered through the cypresses. The courtyard was empty.

I forced Carrie back on her feet and through the cypresses. She wasn’t struggling anymore. I figured she’d given up, and that was a smart move. I wasn’t kidding about killing her. If she got me in trouble, I was going to snap that mousy neck of hers in a second.

The school door was locked, but it wasn’t a problem. Evidently Carrie had a key to it too. I made her show me which one it was, and we went in. Carrie’s luck must have been worse than mine, because there was no one around to protect her from me, and we were inside the clinic in no time.

I flipped a switch and the fluorescent lights popped on. They were bright, and flooded every corner of the peroxide scented room.

I closed and locked the door. Carrie panted under my hand.

There was a desk covered with paperwork. I grabbed a pen out of a cup filled with them. I clenched it like a knife and put the end against her neck.

“I’m gonna take my hand off your mouth,” I said, talking a little louder now that we were in a more private place. “If you make a sound—I am not shitting you—I’ll stab this pen into your throat. Got it?”
She nodded.

I lowered my hand slowly, giving her a big enough gap that she could scream if she wanted, but keeping my hand close enough that I could easily put it back over if I needed to. She didn’t utter a sound.

I pushed her against the wall, flipped her over so that she was facing me, and pressed the pen against her throat. I pushed it in close. I wanted her to know that if she did anything, I wasn’t afraid to cut her open.

She took my not making a sound rule seriously, because she was even breathing quietly.

Her face was pale white, expect for a big, severely red hand-mark that stretched across her mouth. I felt kinda bad about it. She looked into my eyes, like she was trying to figure out what I was going to do to her. It wasn’t the same as the look Claire used to give me in sessions. Claire always had that look like she was trying to dissect what I was thinking. I didn’t like it. But there was something very frightened in Carrie’s eyes. I never saw that in Claire’s. Carrie was fragile. She was so small, and she looked so scared. I couldn’t help but pull the pen back a bit.

I took a few breaths to calm myself. “Carrie,” I said. “You ready to tell me what the fuck is going on around here?”

7: The League

Carrie's green eyes were locked on mine. The combination of the fluorescent lights and me being right in her face revealed a shimmer of blue in them. They reminded me of marbles. I was pissed at her for looking so damn cute. She hadn’t said a word, but I felt like she was trying to use her adorable ponytail and form-fitting green tee to make me let my guard down.

The intensity of the hand mark on her face against her usual milk-white flesh made me realize how rough I’d been with her. Her chest pushed in and out as she took quick, uneasy breaths through her long lips. She didn’t move, didn’t speak. I figured she was still in shock from me kidnapping her and forcing her into the clinic. But as much as I wanted to find some compassion for her, I couldn't forget the fact that she had something to do with why that monster had attacked me at the pool.

I pressed the end of the pen back against her neck. If she had powers like Seth, she might take the opportunity to pin my ass against the wall, and I wanted her to know the moment she tried something, I'd tear into her. As cute and innocent as she looked, that wasn't going to keep me from ripping her in two. That whole not beating up girls rule goes to shit when you start getting attacked by monsters.

"Listen bitch," I hissed through clenched teeth.

She gulped.

"I don't know what you guys' game is, but I was just attacked by a fucking skeleton Grim Reaper with a chain fetish, so you'd better talk. Cause if you don't, I'll make you!"

Fear flashed in her eyes. They grew as wide as they'd been when I'd come at her with the soccer ball the week before. "The slasher," she whispered so softly I almost missed it.

I hadn't made the connection till then, but once she said that, I realized that the monster was the Lawrenceville Slasher everyone had been talking about since I’d arrived at St. Lawrence. What I had assumed was just another psycho serial killer was actually that…whatever. And these crazies were sicking it on anyone who bothered them.

"You assholes tried to kill me!" I exclaimed.

"No, no," Carrie insisted. Her normal voice was nearly as quiet as her whisper.

"What...the hell...is going on?" I forced out. I was nauseous with confusion, and she still wasn’t giving me answers. What was wrong with this fucked up school? Why the hell did Brad and Seth have powers? Why was there a big monster in the pool? When did I start living in a world where things like that happened? And when was Carrie going to tell me something that made some sense? My mind raced in every direction. The confusion fueled my rage.

Carrie's eyes wandered. Not like she was trying to avoid looking at me. More like she was trying to make sense of something. "We...I..." she stammered, struggling for words. "It was an accident."

An accident my ass!

"Don't bullshit me! Brad made my nose bleed. He knew that I'd have to stay late. He knew I'd be in the showers. He and Seth set me up so that they could get that thing to go after me."

"No. They can't," she insisted.

"If you have a better explanation, I'd love to hear it." My words were filled with the kinda sarcasm that woulda made me want to punch someone's lights out if they used it on me.

"It's not us. I mean, it is, but..." She seemed confused. I didn't know if it was real or an act, but if she actually was, I knew that she was nowhere near as confused as I was. "...it's not something we can control, we just...we—" She stopped, looked me directly in the eyes. "I'll explain. Please just let me sit down."

To say I was reluctant is an understatement. Was she trying to get away? And if she succeeded, would she go back and get Seth and that creature and bring them back here to get me?

"Sorry," I said with no sincerity. "Not happening."

Her confusion morphed into irritation. She took a breath and pouted through her mouse-nose. Her long lips tightened. "Listen," she said, straining to make her voice louder than usual. "I'm not against you. I just need to think."

"You're not against me?" Her words were convincing, but the facts didn't add up. "Are you saying you aren't in on this with Seth?"

She rolled her eyes. Her roll was just as mousy as her nose, her hands, and her voice. "You're asking the wrong questions."

I was pretty straightforward, and now was not the time for her to be telling me that I was wrong about anything. If she'd seen what I'd done to Dax back at St. Luke, it would have been easier for her to understand why she should be a little more careful with her words.

"I don't give a fuck about the right questions. You know what I want to know, so talk!"

She eyed me with contempt. Since I'd been following her and seen her in classes, I'd never seen her make an expression like that. Usually she was focused on a task, like when she read papers, or uneasy, like when she was goalie in soccer or avoiding the ball in volleyball. Then of course, there was fear and terror I'd seen when I'd first captured her. This anger was new to me. I didn't like it. I kinda wished I could knock some of that fear back into her so she'd get on with it.

She took a breath, as if to calm herself. She looked to the floor and shook her head. "Seth couldn't have sent it after you."

I stared her down impatiently, awaiting some other explanation.

She locked eyes with me again. "We're not as strong as you think we are."

"Who you kidding? I saw what happened to Seth. His leg was mangled. And then he came back to the dorms and lifted me right off the floor and threw me against the wall. And then he had something—or I don't know—he strangled me."

"Seth didn't fix his leg."

"Oh yeah?" I said. "Then what happened?"

"I did."

She did have powers!

By then, I’d backed the pen off from her neck a bit. I hurriedly pressed it back against her skin, my arm muscles stiff and ready to lunge forward.

My quick spring to action took Carrie off guard. She jumped back against the wall. Her body tensed up, and her hands shook at her side. She held her breath as she watched me with terror-filled eyes. She was just waiting for me to make the first cut.

I watched her carefully. She couldn’t tell, but I was just as scared that she was going to pull some of her powers-shit out and have me crawling across the ceiling. We stared into each other’s eyes, each of us waiting for the other to make a move.

As she realized I wasn’t going to cut her open, she started to breathe again, but slowly, as if she was trying to keep from making any movements that might provoke me. And that was very smart.

“I’m…not…going to do anything,” she drew out, in an extra soft voice.

“I’ve seen what you guys can do.”

"What Seth did back at the dorms was a show to scare you. He and Brad started working on it at the hospital. It took them hours to do a trick that probably lasted two minutes. If they had the kind of power you're talking about, you woulda been in a lot more trouble. It was a lot worse in your head than—"

"Worse in my head? I was floating, for Christ's sakes!"

She tensed up even more, fearing that in my outburst I'd accidentally cut her.

“I promise…” she said, almost like she was pleading. “…I can’t do anything right now.”

“Why should I believe you?”

She looked at me with sincere eyes. A part of me knew that was answer enough, but I didn’t know if it was a part I could trust. “You don’t have to,” she said. “But it’s not like you think." There was a certain confidence in her voice. She was starting to get used to having that pen at her throat. "What we do isn’t much. And none of it has to do with the Slasher."

"None of it?" Pardon me for being a skeptic.

She tapped her front teeth together. "Okay, it has something to do with it, but not the way you think."

“So…what’s…the…deal?” I said, emphasizing each word so that it was clear that now was her chance to clear things up.

I pulled the pen back just far enough to give her some room, but close enough that to get a good attack in if I needed to. I woulda thought she’d relax after I let up, but she didn’t. She anxiously stroked her hand against her arm and gazed at the floor. It reminded me of an expression I'd made when I'd drawn a picture of a shark on my desk in the fourth grade. My teacher at the time, Ms. Greene, had been pissed. She'd badgered me till I explained why I'd done it. Like me in the fourth grade, Carrie didn't want to talk about it, but I was the belligerent teacher who wasn't going to back down till she spilled the beans. Hopefully, her answer would be a little better than, "cause I like sharks."

"We call ourselves the League…" she began.

8: Carrie Spills Her Guts

"We didn't make it up," she insisted, like she wasn't a fan of the name. "There were people before us."

My anger relaxed. A calm reassurance swept over me. I was finally going to find out what some of these rats were about. As reassuring as that was, it couldn’t ease the throbbing in my head, the sting across my back, the swelling of my nose, and the pain that seemed to be....well, everywhere.

I waited for her to continue, but she hesitated, looked me over. I followed her gaze to see what she was so distracted by.

Goddammit!

I still wasn't wearing a shirt.

I blushed, stepped back. I didn't feel just shirtless. I felt naked. There I was, more confused than I'd ever been in my life, still shaking from having been attacked by a giant monster in the pool, practically begging her to help me, and I didn’t even have a goddamn shirt on. I must have looked so stupid. I had that primal urge to run, but I wasn't going to let Carrie know how self conscious I felt. I sucked it up. That's what Dad woulda told me to do. Bastard.

I swallowed a thick lump of saliva. It felt like a golf ball trying to force its way down.

Carrie's cheeks were nearly as red as the hand mark around her mouth. At least I wasn't alone.

She pulled her gaze away from my chest, back to my face.

"They—um—" she began.

We exchanged awkward looks—the ones where you try to act like your fine even though you’re wildly uncomfortable. I gave her a fake "I don't give a shit" look. But if mine was as bad as her "I was just looking around and didn't notice anything" look, then she knew exactly how uncomfortable I felt.

"The League..." she said, struggling to remember what she'd been talking about. "...discovered a hole between our world and another one." Her eyes wandered above my neck. It was clear that she was still affected. And I’ll admit that there was a small moment where I wondered whether or not she’d liked what she’d seen.

"This hole tears right through Lawrenceville,” she continued. “They called it the Rift. The League discovered this very potent, tangible energy that seeped out of it. And they found a way to control it.”

“It’s like it spits out electricity?”

It’d never been very easy for me to follow abstract ideas. I needed to relate it to something that made some sense to me. And electricity was the closest thing I’d been able to come up with.

“It’s not electricity,” she insisted.

“Yeah, I get that.”

How stupid does this girl think I am?

“Just go with me on this,” I said. “So this…rift…spits out a sort of electricity, and you guys plug into it?”

Carrie’s tiny nose was all cringed up as she struggled through my analogy. “Sort of…” she said, as if it made some sense to her, but she didn’t want to go with it.

“And that’s where your powers come from?”

“Yes.”

“So you guys are like toasters.”

Carrie’s face was even more contorted, like she’d smelled something awful. She must’ve thought I was way out in left field.

“In order to use your powers,” I explained, “you have to plug into this Rift thing. So it’s like a socket, and you guys have to plug into it in order to work. Like a toaster.”

“No,” she said. “A toaster just plugs in and you can use it whenever you want. We can’t just plug in whenever. Like with what Seth and Brad did with you. They had to work on that for hours to build up their strength. We’re more like…like batteries. We have to recharge.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. We were on a roll. “So what does that have to do with that..." Images of skeleton-thin hands covered in wrinkles and blisters jumbled in my head so that I couldn’t find words to describe it.

"The Rift fluctuates.”

Fluctuates? What is this, the news?

“Sometimes it expands quickly, and something big can get through. That's what happened with the Slasher.”

I tried to make it fit into my electricity example. It kinda fell apart there.

“So what is it?” I asked.

“An animal from that other world, but it just does what it wants. We can’t control it,” she said, defending my initial accusation that Seth had somehow sicked it on me.

“A horse can be trained,” I insisted. It was too coincidental. I eyed her suspiciously. "So you’re saying you guys have nothing to do with it?"

She looked to the floor, stroked her arm again. Guilty!

Her lips did a freaky little jiggle, like she was calculating her next sentence.

CLICK! CLICK!

A cold rush crawled up my spine, and I wasn’t positive, but I was pretty sure my heart had stopped. I turned my head so quick I thought it was gonna do a 180.

The silver handle on the door shook.

Oh…shit!

Scenes involving that black cloak, the wrinkled hands, and blood spewing from every part of my body filled my head. I was lucky to have gotten away from it the first time. Now I was cornered in this little room, with nowhere to go.

The handle turned. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, but I jumped in front of Carrie. It was bullshit of me to think I’d be able to protect her from that monster.

The door burst open.

A tiny, chubby woman with ear-length brownish-reddish hair and freckles stood in the doorway. Thick, wrinkled flesh drooped off her jaw and jiggled as she did a double take. She looked at me with wide-eyes—bigger than Carrie’s had been in soccer, but just a little smaller than those kids with the anime-eyes on the St. Lawrence brochure.

I’m sure I had the same look of shock on my face. Minus the nasty double chin.

Her head did a little dance side to side, the chin dancing a little more than the rest of her face. Her eyes shifted from me. I didn’t think it was possible, but they widened even more. Now they looked like the kids from the brochure!

“Carrie?!” she exclaimed.

Carrie stepped up beside me. She moved her mouth, as if to start speaking, but nothing came out. I figured that was a version of stuttering for someone with such a little voice.

She looked to me, then back at the woman in the doorway. She was gonna have to think real quick to explain the shirtless guy next to her.

The woman’s bewilderment transformed to strong disapproval. She set her hand on her hip and glanced back and forth between me and Carrie, giving us the kinda look nuns give you when you look at someone of the opposite sex—like they know what you’re thinking and are gonna get you for it.

“Ms. Ryder,” Carrie said, shaking herself. “You scared me. Could you help us here?”
Just as quickly as this Ms. Ryder person’s expression had gone from bewilderment to disapproval, it flashed from disapproval to concern. “What is it?” she asked in a thick, twangy accent. “He okay? What’s wrong?”

“He fell on his back in the courtyard,” Carrie said. “Luckily, I was heading back to the dorms just after it happened.”

Clever.

Carrie must’ve seen the cuts on my back from when the Slasher had dragged me across the cement floor by the pool and decided to use it to her advantage.

Ms. Ryder hurried over to me. The door closed behind her.

“Good thing I forgot my medicine. Come on, boy. Turn aroun’. Lemme see,” she insisted. By the way she said it, you woulda thought I was trying to hide it from her.

I turned around.

“I’ll get some rubbing alcohol for it,” Carrie said. She rushed passed me. I felt Ms. Ryder’s warm hands on my shoulders.
There goes my personal space.

She felt around my back. I guessed to see how deep the cuts were. Either that or she was a perv.
Carrie went to a beige wall cabinet on the other side of the room, beside a bathroom. It squeaked as she opened it.

“You got this from fallin’?” Ms. Ryder asked, confused.

“Yeah,” I said. “I kinda—”

“He said he fell against a wall,” Carrie hastily, but brilliantly chimed in as she rifled through a box in the cabinet. “It scraped his back pretty good.”

It concerned me how good she was at lying to Ms. Ryder. I wondered if she had done the same thing with me. Though with me, I already knew something was up, whereas Ms. Ryder was oblivious.

“Ouch. That musta hurt ya somethin’,” Ms. Ryder observed.

“You have no idea,” I said.

“I’ll tell ya,” she continued. “There was a kid in here last year. He done scraped up his whole front and back when he’d fallen down somma those stairs outside. You know ‘em concrete ones?” While she’d been talking, she’d gone over to a row of chairs that lined the wall by the door and pulled one over beside me. “Now don’t just stand there. Sit down,” she insisted. She put her hand on my shoulder and practically pushed me into the chair.

“There’ya go,” she said. “Carrie, where ya at?”

Carrie was heading back towards us, carrying a skim-milk white plastic bottle and a roll of paper towels. She set the bottle on the table and ripped a paper towel off the roll, started folding it.

Ms. Ryder was still behind me, studying my back. “Blood’s awfully dry,” she said. “When’d it happened?”

Carrie poured some of the contents from the bottle onto the paper towel. I could tell by the way she was staring at the towel that she was becoming a little more worried about lying—like she wasn’t going to be able to cover all her bases. “About thirty minutes ago,” she said. “It was on the other side of school. I had to get something out of my locker.”

“It took you thirty minutes to get here from the other side of school?” Ms. Ryder asked, not so much suspiciously—more genuinely confused.

Carrie gulped one of those golf ball sized gulps that I’d done earlier. “Could you turn around?” she said softly to me.

As I turned, Ms. Ryder came around to help Carrie. I couldn’t help but watch these big rolls she had hanging off her stomach as she passed. Her chest to waist ratio was like the inverse of Megan’s.

“He thought he might have sprained his ankle,” Carrie lied. “So I had to help him over.”

By now I’d recovered from the near heart attack I’d had when Ms. Ryder had first walked in and was just annoyed that me and Carrie had been interrupted from our discussion. This woman needed to go, because I still had questions that needed to be answered.

“Sprained ankle?” Ms. Ryder asked. “It hurtin’?”

“FUCK!”

A sharp sting on my back made me cringe. That bitch Carrie was putting the rubbing alcohol on. Fuck her!

“Yeah, it’s gonna sting,” Ms. Ryder explained.
No shit!

“Your ankle hurt?” she repeated.

“Um…not really,” I said apathetically. I had bigger things to worry about than this woman not believing I had a sprained ankle. Like a giant monster in a black cloak and Carrie putting more of that shit on my back.

“Lemme take a look,” she said, coming back around. “You can’t be too sure. Few years ago, a kid came in here, thought he’d sprained his ankle. Turned out he had to go to the emergency room cause he’d done fractured it.” While she’d shared an anecdote from her life and adventures as a school nurse, she’d pulled a chair from the wall, put it beside mine, and sat. Her rolls had appeared to double in size. “Come on,” she insisted. “Take off your shoe.”

I bit my lip while Carrie kept at my back with the rubbing alcohol. Maybe I shoulda just let the Slasher finish me off.

I kicked my shoe off with my other foot. Ms. Ryder knelt down and whipped my sock off. She pulled my foot up and rested it in her lap. It was odd how she just did what she wanted and didn’t ask for permission. She felt around my ankle, did little circles with the tips of her fingers. Her face was intense like the look most kids got during math tests.

“Yeah, it looks fine,” she said. She set my foot down, looked up at me. I couldn’t take my eyes off the wrinkles and lines in her gizzard. “Good God, what happened to your face? And your neck?”

I hadn’t had a chance to look in a mirror, but between Brad smacking me in the nose, my head hitting the ladder ring of the pool, and having that chain wrapped around my neck, I assumed I looked like shit.

“It was a bad fall,” I replied.

“Okay son—”

The word son was like knives driving into my ears.

“—I’m gonna take my pills and then we're gonna bandage ya up.”

She leaned over to the desk, opened a drawer beside me. Her rolls were right in my face. The way they moved almost made them look like they were waving at me. Ms. Ryder pulled out an orange prescription pill bottle and closed the drawer. “You need to be more careful. You’re lucky you didn’t break anythin’.”

Ha. If anything, lucky was not how I felt.

She got up and headed to the bathroom on the other side of the room. “You know I always do it. I need to just put some of these pills in a bag at home, so I don’t have to worry about leavin’ em. You’d think I woulda done it already.” By now, she was at a sink in the bathroom, pouring some water into a paper cup that she’d pulled out of a dispenser by the mirror. She threw a pill in her mouth and downed the water.

It was a little bathroom with a white sink and toilet. The light in it was dark orange—very different from the bright fluorescents lighting the rest of the clinic. The light made Ms. Ryder’s hair look even redder. And the way it was casting shadows off her saggy jaw and rolls was incredibly unflattering.

Ms. Ryder tossed the paper cup in a trashcan between the sink and the toilet.

“I can’t not take em,” she said. “You know, my Mammaw. She was seventy-three and she was in a parking lot and just done fell over, and—Goddammit! I forgot to refill the soap.”

She bustled back out, headed across the room, passed the cabinet, to a box beside it. She knelt down and started going through it.

“These do look bad,” Carrie whispered to me. She pressed the towel with rubbing alcohol against my back again.

I closed one eye tight and growled like a dog.
“You baby!”

“Can we just get out of here?” I whispered through ground teeth. We had far more important things than to listen to Ms. Ryder’s ramblings.

“I mean this is a woman who’d been healthy—not a problem—for seventy-three years. You know what they say…healthy as a horse…”

How did Carrie work with this woman every damn day?

While Ms. Ryder blah blah blahed, she pulled a bag of pink gunk out of the box and headed back to the bathroom.

“We’ll be done soon,” Carrie whispered into my ear. “Relax.”

Relax? That was easy for her to say. Her back wasn’t on fire.

“…oh she was in the hospital for two, maybe near three months…” Ms. Ryder popped the lid off a soap container beside the mirror, poured the pink guck into it. “…and the doctors tell her, take the medicine. And God knows we tried to get her to take it…”

“She’s really nice,” Carrie reassured me.

Ms. Ryder pressed the lid back on the soap container, tossed the empty bag into the trashcan. “There we go!” she exclaimed proudly. She turned the faucet on and rinsed her hands. “And we knowed she shoulda taken it, and Grandpa, done with her forty three years, woke up and finds her stone dead. And I mean, she didn’t have no symptoms. We’re talkin’ outta…”
“Kill me now,” I groaned.

CRASH!

It sounded like a hundred glasses shattering at once. Inside the bathroom, the mirror exploded into razor-sharp fragments that flew at Ms. Ryder.

I tripped out of my chair, crawled back against the wall like I’d done at the pool.

Ms. Ryder fell back, unleashing a loud, twangy shrill.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

It was coming back for me!

Ms. Ryder’s body halted midair, then lunged forward. I figured the Slasher must’ve grabbed her. Her face slammed into the wall where the mirror had been. She flailed about, her scream continuing, but sounding more like a gargle. I feared that she was choking on her own blood.

She pressed her hands on either side of the mirror and pushed. She might as well have been trying to lift a thousand pounds, cause she didn’t get an inch.

“Oh my God!” Carrie gasped, her hand to her mouth as she watched the scene in terror. “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Pieces of mirror hit the tile floor. They jingled like bells. I hopped up and ran to the bathroom. I sure as hell didn’t want to deal with the Slasher, but I wasn’t going to sit around and let it kill this woman.

As I reached the doorway, what had to have been a huge piece of mirror ripped through the back of Ms. Ryder’s shirt. I could see the indention of her spine between her shoulder blades. The piece of mirror had cut right through it and was covered in a thick, red mess. A chunk of purple slid down its sides.

Ms. Ryder’s arms dropped down. She was still.

I stood in the doorway, my heart racing. It took me a moment, but the more I looked at the thing sticking out of her back, the less it looked like a piece of mirror. It was awfully long and had a sharp, knife-like curve.

It sucked back into Ms. Ryder’s spine.

She didn’t move, just lied against the wall. Her waist rolls inched lower and lower. They dragged the rest of her body toward the floor. Her shoulder hit the sink and the weight of her rolls was so heavy that they flipped her over. She dropped.

I closed my eyes, heard a loud crack that I was sure was her back slamming into the tile floor. I opened my eyes. Ms. Ryder lied on her side under the sink. Her face was like a red pin-cushion covered in shards of glass. Her mouth hung open like it had when she’d first walked in, but now a stream of thick, crimson blood oozed out of it, making a small, round puddle on the tiles just under her mouth. I couldn’t see her eyes. There was too much blood filling the sockets.

“Oh my God!” Carrie played like a broken record and breathed like she was having an asthma attack.

Where the mirror had been, was now a hole that led to darkness. The darkness seemed to move, and from it, crawled these long, yellow things that looked like oversized spider-legs. They grew longer and longer and curled around the sides of the hole. They were fingernails.