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I'll tell you what happened to Meredith. It's really quite interesting. Don't ask how I know.

Meredith Saldano. You'd know her if you went to this school for any length of time. By reputation, if not by acquaintance. You could describe her as a confident, outgoing young lady. Or you could describe her as a stuck-up rich girl. There are always differing viewpoints.

Allow me to paint you a little picture. Dahlia West High School stands on the hillside at the upper extremity of a large rectangular block, which is otherwise dominated by a grassy, oddly-landscaped field. The school grounds look like a giant green peninsula reaching down from the verdant residential area uphill surrounded on all other sides by the drab, grey blocks that make up Dahlia's downtown.

There's a moderately-sized courtyard half-engulfed by the motley assortment of additions and annexes that surround the school building. It's poorly maintained, and the vista isn't exactly the stuff of landscape paintings. But, on a nice day, it has all the bright and uplifting qualities that the rest of the school lacks. It's overlooked by a sculpture of a cricket, which was constructed by a metals class and an art class working together during some period in the past when fun things happened at this school.

There are tables in the courtyard, and students can eat their lunches outside. But that luxury belongs only to the ones who get there at the very beginning of the lunch hour, and to those whose ownership of certain tables is universally understood. The students in Lunch Group B all know that the table next to the sculpture, the one with the best view, belongs to a particular group of girls.

Enter Meredith Saldano. A tall, olive-skinned beauty of seventeen, with black shoulder-length hair ending in wavy curls, rosewood lipstick and nail polish, and a black long-sleeved skater dress with a white floral pattern. She always stood out from the crowd. Commanded attention. On that fateful Tuesday she got some attention she didn't want.

I wouldn't think she was surprised when she found a flirty message lying on the place at the table where she always sat. As in most strange sequences of events, the first incident was barely noteworthy.

"My friend told me to make sure you know you're cute. Sit at the same table tomorrow and we'll have a nice view."

It was a silly note, of course. Meredith always ate lunch at the same table (weather permitting). And if she didn't, she wouldn't find the note in the first place. The people responsible for this funny little letter either weren't very bright or were just trying to call attention to where they sat at lunch.

She didn't react strongly. It wasn't even worth a comment to her friends. She just rolled her eyes, crumpled up the note, and went about her usual eating and conversing.

The next day Meredith ate lunch at one of the tables inside the cafeteria, far from the windows. Her friends followed suit. She mentioned the note briefly. Casually. Not as something that was preying on her mind. All the same, she obviously didn't want to be seen by the whoever was responsible for it. But she was noticed in her eye-catching cashmere sweater. It was the color of wild thistle flowers, standing out against the sandy tones of her plaid skirt.

Thursday was a rather warm day, so she wore a tank top and a short skirt. Everything was deep blue or black, except for the narrow white stripes cascading diagonally down her skirt.

There was a new letter for her. This one was taped to her locker on the second floor of Building A. It was longer than the first one, and it seemed to annoy her a bit more.

"You didn't sit at the right table. My friend was mad but he got over it. I think he likes you. He can't write to girls so I have to."

Meredith asked the friends she chatted with that morning if they'd noticed who put the note there. None of them had. She brought the subject back up with her other friends at lunch. None of them knew, either.

That day she picked a seat near the north wall of the cafeteria, which is mostly glass. She spent most of the lunch period looking out at the courtyard, obviously wondering who the messages came from. The students were still afraid of offending Meredith and her friends by sitting at their table. As a result, there was a vacant table in the courtyard. An odd sight on such a nice day. It afforded her a decent view of the nearby tables. I wonder who her mind accused of writing the letters. It certainly wasn't the real culprit.

On the fourth day there was a third message waiting for Meredith. Incidentally, she was wearing another sweater-skirt combo, the former being goldenrod and the latter purple-tinged grey.

"My friend likes you for sure. Watch out!"

Her annoyance was piqued. She turned the paper over, stuck it back to the locker, and wrote a message of her own.

"Who ever you are please die."

Meredith didn't breathe a word about her secret admirer that day. She went about her business as if she'd never seen the notes. She ate lunch in the courtyard as if she wasn't being watched. Everything went normally during her school day and the hours of freedom that followed. But there was madness at midnight.

In a part of town they call Ridgecrest Village, in a large house with bland architecture, Meredith was sound asleep in her bed when an unpleasant noise roused her. A rhythm of creaking and scraping with incidental clanking and thumping was coming from outside. It wasn't very loud, but was getting louder as it gradually drew closer.

She put her head back on the pillow and closed her eyes, but one could easily tell she wasn't sleeping. That dissonant unidentified noise was nibbling at her nerves and arousing her curiosity. It wasn't too long before she sat up with a look of annoyance on her face. So predictable. She tossed aside the covers and jumped out of bed

I wouldn't want to deprive your mind's eye of her appearance. She looked almost like a different girl at that hour. Messy hair. No makeup. None of that confident and mannered posture and presence. And you must know by now that I won't go any further without describing her clothes. On that portentous night Meredith wore a hot pink camisole and smoky grey pyjama pants patterned with pieces of shattered hearts. Now that you have a mental picture of the subject, the scene can unfold.

Meredith stomped over to her bedroom window. By the time the curtains and blinds were out of her way the sound had stopped. She couldn't see anything unusual. Just a yard, a drive, an island, and other big and bland houses and yards like her own. She needed a better vantage point.

With the return of silence she could've just gone back to bed. But she didn't. It seemed the noise had held her attention long enough that she was determined to find its cause.

She left her bedroom, turned on the hall light, and made her way toward the bay window in the living room. Her bare feet hopped a couple inches off the carpet when the shrieks of metal on metal suddenly resumed. She stopped just short of the living room and turned south to face the racket.

She stood there for a few moments. She slowly turned her head, but didn't seem to be looking at anything. I suppose she was thinking. Mentally mapping the area outside her house. Wondering where and what the noise-maker was. The only street that met the property was in the west, veering off northward. The neighbors' houses and garages were at odd angles, but none were to the south for hundreds of feet. Past the southern edge of the Saldanos' property there was nothing but a steep hill with a drainage area far below. You wouldn't think there'd be anything big, loud, and metallic out there. But on that night, you'd be wrong.

It was all very strange. That might have been why she crept slowly and carefully through the hallway, nervously turning on lights and checking latches on windows and locks on doors as she went. She got more agitated and stealthy when she turned a corner and found herself close to the source of the cacophony. She practically tiptoed around the kitchen and through the dining room. Watching her was positively tedious.

She peered through the glass sliding door that led to the pool. There wasn't much to see besides reflections from inside. She inched toward the light switch, but something beat her to it.

Every bulb in the household suddenly went dark, along with the glowing panel of the burglar alarm, while just as spontaneously the floodlights outside came on. There, on the patio, was a pile of scrap metal.

Of course it wasn't just any old pile. Six pieces of rebar were its legs, two pieces of sheet metal were its wings, two colanders were its eyes, and so forth. Taken all together, it was a cricket. With a spasmodic and unnatural motion, it lifted a leg and scraped it against a wing. Once more, the air was filled with hideous, rhythmic scraping sounds.

The sculpture had come to serenade her.

Meredith's heart was unmoved. She didn't have a word to say to her suitor. In fact, she's hardly said a word since.

As for the cricket, it's back in the courtyard. Don't expect it to play for you. Its legs are holding fast to the concrete. There's not one appendage out of place. You'd never guess it made its way to Ridgecrest Village one night to woo an ungrateful lady.

Amusing, wouldn't you say? Well, I suppose you need to have a certain sense of humor.

Maybe magic brought the sculpture to life, like in that old Italian story. Maybe it was a transformed man, like in those old Greek stories. Maybe it was around people for so long that it took on a life of its own, like in those old Japanese stories. Or maybe, just maybe, it was a puppet, and a certain mischief-maker was pulling the strings.



Written by Floyd Pinkerton
Content is available under CC BY-SA