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Something as far back in the past as the second grade is a sort of thing not many people can dig up from their memories. At least, not very well. After some of the things I’ve recently found out about my second grade teacher (well, one of them), the skeletons of those memories only keep coming back to me in more detail. What happened all those years ago was something most parents wouldn’t expect, let alone a child. Heh, it was the kind of thing that wouldn’t even occur to a little boy. A boy of merely seven years of age wouldn’t ever imagine such things to happen at all, especially around him.
Being seven years old in the year nineteen ninety-nine was a simple, carefree time for the most part. All a kid like me worried about back then was how long until the school day was over. That, and getting to play outside with my best friends after getting off the bus in the afternoons. A lot of times, right after we’d get off the school bus, little groups of us would get together, and play in the neighborhood, close by to our houses, of course. Our parents knew each other a lot of the time, so that wasn’t usually an issue. Occasionally, one of the more worrying parents may come out to scold their child for maybe going out and about to play without telling them beforehand, but that sort of thing wasn’t too common. It certainly wasn’t in our neighborhood, anyway.
Going to school never was so bad though. Sure, none of us really wanted to, but having each other’s company made an almost daily chore worth doing. Perhaps it was the fact that we were pretty much always in the same groups of us children that made our parents not feel too worried. That, plus, as long as we all made it home before it’d get dark out, we wouldn’t get scolded ourselves. After all, nowadays, concerned adults tend to tell kids to always be in a group when they go out to play. Somehow, we knew that was the best way. I couldn’t quite explain it to you, but it was like an instinct. We just knew.
We even stayed together in our groups in school. After all, the classrooms were where we tended to first meet each other. They weren’t like cliques, which were preserved for much later years of school for us. The circles of us children would mix with one another sometimes, often in class or the cafeteria during our lunch times. Outside of that? Not so much. We were all friends of some kind of degree, but we still preferred to be in our own circles. In our elementary school though, there was really only one child who didn’t really seem like he was a member of any of these “circles.”
His name was Tommy, or least I’m pretty certain it was. This kid was someone I only ever knew in the second grade. My memories failed to dig up what his last name may have been. Perhaps that isn’t so important though. It was never that we hated, or even disliked him, really. We just sort of, well, kept a little distance. Why? If anything, it was probably that we just didn’t really have a reason to make friends with him. Now, in those days of childhood, you’d have to do something bad, or just act a certain way to make other kids not so interested. Even if you didn’t say very much to your classmates then, it was merely a very small spec of time until another kid in class went up to you, intending on making a new friend. He was really the only exception. At first, I sort of felt bad for him. Part of me wanted to go up to him, at first anyway, but me always being sort of shy, I just had the tendency to let others come to me.
It was really because he was always acting up in some way or another. One wouldn’t have called him the class clown per se. He just acted up. Maybe during Art Class, he’d flicker paints in the hair and face of whichever girl was unlucky enough to be sitting across from him. During a lunch period, every now and then, a food fight would start, and it seemed to always be his doing. In the realm of my recollection, there were no threats of cameras. Maybe there were some in use in those days, maybe there weren’t. Regardless of what trouble he’d pull, it’d still get a gleeful giggle out of him. Whether or not the giggles would trail into the principal’s office, however, was unknown to me. There were still a few more years to go before I’d start acting up during the school hours.
Tommy still seemed to enjoy himself in our homeroom class, as the rest of us did before the leave happened. Our original homeroom teacher was to be called “Mrs. O’Brien,” “O’Byrne,” or something else like that. Since that was well more than a decade in days of moons ago, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint now. Let’s go with “Mrs. O’Brien” for the moment.
Anyone would’ve enjoyed having her as a teacher. We’d arrive in the early morning hours, and always find her organizing some small heap of papers. To make the chore easier, probably, she’d always be playing a different form of music every day. When someone asked why one day, she said that she believed everyone should know about all kinds of music. In retrospect, that, and other things about her class were things I admired. Mostly, it was how she’d make learning into something we could have a lot of fun with. One of the games I could recall was where we’d all be mixed up to be placed between two teams. One person from each team would go up in front of a buzzer. She’d sit in front of them, show a picture of an animal, and the first to get the right answer as to whether it was a mammal, bird, etc. was given a point. I’m pretty sure that if you’d buzz and get the answer wrong, it’d go to the other person to possibly take said point. That was for the science portion of it, and every other subject had some different game. My recalling doesn’t serve well enough to find the knowledge from its grave. On top of that, when it was someone’s birthday, she’d bring in a cake, we’d all sing to whichever student, and other such things. Those other details are a bit fuzzy too. The teacher who, well, “replaced” her did nothing of the sort. It became so much different. Whatever good feelings were originally there were sucked dry after she had to go, and well, be “replaced.”
Of course, Tommy did his share of acting up. When he’d get caught though, our original teacher would talk to him a little bit away from the rest of us. I’d see her kneel down to look him in the eyes. The softness of her voice never once floated away from her, but one would imagine it altered to being rather stern to match the serious expression on her visage. It was probably to explain to him why he shouldn’t have done what he did, and often, as my memory would assume, to apologize to whomever. What sort of struck me though, was the look in Tommy’s eyes. The sort of glassy look in them told me he really was sincere with apologizing. I only remember that one faculty member bringing out that kind of sincerity in him.
Some time in the snowy winter though, it happened. Something probably none of us would’ve imagined occurred in maybe that school year’s January. By then, we were all used to seeing her walking about a little slower than usual. Mrs. O’Brien would assure to us everything was okay when one of us with a long, confused face would ask. She would then gently rub on her belly that was extended out from a child to come into this world. Looking down at her abdomen with a little smile, the teacher would tell us how things would be even better than just okay. It was only so little time until she let us all know that she’d have to leave our class for a little while. Mrs. O’Brien informed us all that she was about to have a daughter of her own. At saying that, the teachers eyes glimmered as if just the right amount of warm sunlight was glimmering off of her corneas.
As of the next day, she wouldn’t be our teacher. The majority of us were silent. I’m not sure, but I think one of the girls started sobbing to hearing this. It’s not sure to me what went on between that, and when that psychotic bitch showed up for the first time.
Oh God, that next morning. Ever since the alarm clock shouted to wake up, and get ready for school, something didn’t feel right. It wasn’t even because of the idea of having a different teacher for the class. There was never that sort of tingle like spiders crawling all about my lungs like that every time I’d inhale when there was a new teacher. A different classroom never felt that way any other time. No. No, it was simply that day. That single day, readying myself, and going on the bus. For some reason, I just knew it was a wrong idea. If only my parents would’ve allowed me to sleep, and stay home that day. Thinking about it, pretending to be ill may not have been such a bad idea. From this point forward, I know that I remember more. I definitely remember so much more.
It finally landed upon my realization that whenever the memories would rise from the dirt, my hands would quiver. Other than the spiders now making their way into the inside of my heart, it appeared to be another morning. That was up to going in the classroom, anyway. Us all walking in, the uncommon event of no absent kids, we sat at our little tables. For the first time that school year, we didn’t see any teacher. There wasn’t any music. It was a dead silence. A couple minutes or so, and we started to whisper between ourselves like we weren’t allowed to. Mrs. O’Brien never told us so, but the feeling was completely mutual between us. For one reason or another, we were not to be heard.
Losing its inexplicable sensation of coziness, the air surrounding us transformed to some sudden shiver. It was like somehow, the cold found its way inside, but like some kind of fog, rather than a snow-infested wind. A few of us looked around to find the source. Even though there was a window in this classroom to view the outer world, it was shut tight as always, the blinds dangling right above. On top of that, there was also no direct way outside through one of the doors. If you wanted out, you’d have to walk out two more doorways, or just shove that one window open. We heard something, a human voice. It wasn’t the typical, daily announcements though. It was there, right in front of the exit door of the room.
“Good morning, students!” Our ears shuddered at the jolting sound. It forced its way to our ear drums, and beyond them, crawling through.
We all looked at the person who was supposed to be teaching us for who even knows how long. The collection of us saw the muscle and fat-devoid woman standing there in her stiff, button-down shirt and pants. The sky blue, long-sleeved shirt was tucked in perfectly, and never loosened once that I knew of. Something else about her was far more bothersome though. It wasn’t the clothes that covered her probably unpleasant body. Oh no, it was her face. Jesus, the expression on her face burned into our minds. I recall her eyes nearly bulging out of her skull, with just a little bit too much eye shadow above them. Erect on top of her eyelids were false lashes that stood like black pikes stuck in the ground. Explaining it was never something in my ability, but something about her eyes just felt mesmerizing, as if she was trying to tell us to do something, but without opening her mouth. Her mouth… That was the worst part of her face to look at. It wasn’t her teeth. In fact, they may have been absolutely white, like bleached bone. At least, never did I see any kind of imperfections in them. That smile though… It rises so much hatred, and even panic when the thought of that woman’s grin comes back to me. Always, it was stretched. It was pulled back to both ears, showing her flawlessly bleached teeth.
All of us turning our heads, watching her walk to her desk, her hair bounced in its perfect bun.
“I said,” she started, putting her well-organized binders down on what was now her desk with a slam. That woman gripped her things a bit tighter, her fingers trembling. I looked at her eyes as her faced lowered directly towards her belongings. Her eyelids didn’t join once. “‘Good morning, students’!”
We all still remained silent. Even Tommy was just as quiet. My little hands were gripping my knees, tight in my seat. There was never a single shred of wanting to look at her, but my eyes just couldn’t wander away. They were completely stuck in place.
Some of us looked at each other, and mumbled, “Good morning.”
Little Tommy was the only one I noticed not shivering at her. He was still staring though. He was probably also the only one who didn’t look back and forth at other kids.
The new teacher stood up perfectly straight again, inhaling deeply. She slowly breathed out, “A little better.” Turning to face the chalkboard, she continued, “I suppose.” That woman picked up a piece of chalk. “I’ll let that slide this time. This time…” Putting the piece of white against the board, it made a good click sound, a tiny piece of it falling to the ground. “And this time only.” Her hand was twitching against the chalkboard as she wrote her name in somewhat squiggly letters. “My name is Ms. Obluda.”
Just a portion of us mumbled, a few stuttering, “H-Hi, Ms. Obluda.”
She squeezed the piece of chalk in her hand. I was thinking that maybe that poor chunk of dry white would crumble to dust in her merciless palm. To me, it wasn’t very certain, but my eyes, still glued her, may have seen a vein pop out of the back of her neck.
That woman took in a huge breath of air. “I’m sorry,” she stated, still grinning. “What was that?”
We all said louder, “Hello, Ms. Obluda.”
“That’s much better.” Breathing out, that crazy bitch slammed the piece of chalk back down on one of the metal grooves sitting out in front of the board. The room was silent enough to hear each footstep of hers echo in the room as she stormed back to what was now her desk.
She grabbed a pencil, and her the other things she brought in with her. Gazing at and flipping through her binder back and forth, as if it needed to be organized again somehow, her head jerked up at us at something.
It was at the faint sound of someone’s pencil falling to the carpeted floor. Her scowling eyes scanned us, picking up on who was bending down to pick up the pencil that so carelessly rolled off his table. It didn’t seem at first that Tommy noticed how she picked up on him as he was sitting back up, pencil in hand. He turned back to her, him biting his lip a little bit with his jaw quaking a little bit. Their eyes met, and his were trapped in an invisible vortex of what might possibly happen. She ordered to him, “You! Come to my desk.” Her thumb pushed and shook against her pencil until it made an instant crack, snapping on half. The pointed half she cracked off hit her desk, and we could all hear the sound of it when he walked up to her. That woman hissed at him, “Stand up straight.”
He did as he was told, stiffening his little being. Apparently, he was a little bit too unaware, or a little too absentminded to realize that he did something wrong.
Raising my eyebrows at what may come, I decided I should listen in. She hissed to him, over-enunciating her consonants, “I’ve heard about you. Your name is Tommy, is that correct?”
The poor boy gulped. “Yuh-Yes.”
“‘Yes’? ‘Yes’, what?”
“Uh, uh, yes, Ms. Obluda?” I couldn’t help but notice the kid shaking at her presence. It looked like he was staring a malevolent phantom in the face.
“That’ll do for now. I’ve been told to watch out for you, Boy. I hear that you’re a troublemaker, is that correct?” She looked at his shivering, or I assumed so. “Stand still when I’m speaking to you!”
His shiver lessened, but not entirely. How much could this kid stiffen himself, let alone enough to avoid whatever kind of lashings she may have planned?
“You haven’t answered my question, Thomas,” she reminded him. “When I ask you a question, you will answer me. Do you understand? Because I do, and I will assure, I do have punishments in mind for those who do not listen.”
“Ye-Yeh-Yes, Mih-Ms. Obluda.” This was the very first time I recall ever hearing him stutter.
“Good.” The only adult in the room paused for a second, still not even blinking. Her voice quieted just slightly. “Good.”
“Duh-Did I d-do something wrong, Mi-Ms…”
“Do you always stutter like this, Thomas?”
She clenched her binder with both hands, her tight face reddening just a little bit. It transformed into a sort of pink when she said, “‘No’, what?”
“N-nih-No, Ms. Duh-Obluda.”
Her flesh returned to its normal color. “Not to worry… No, not to worry, my little Thomas. I promise you that you shall learn.”
Poor Tommy looked up at her, into her eyes as she rose from her desk, towering above him.
“Now, Thomas, answer me. I don’t… I say I don’t want to ever have to repeat a question to you, or anyone else here again. I will be kind this time, and ask again only this once. Are you a troublemaker?”
“I…” He was silent for a second.
“What was that?”
“Stop stuttering, Boy!”
“I… Um, I don’t know.”
There was a very muffled snicker from her as she sat back down slowly. “You don’t know?”
“Mmm, no. I don’t.”
The woman gave a big sigh. “How? How is it that you don’t know? It really sounds like a yes to me. Are you telling me that the other teachers in this building were lying to me?”
“Nuh-Nuh… I d-don’t know.”
She enunciated her consonants a little more this time. Her voice may have been just quieter than before. It wasn’t by very much, but just enough for someone who’s listening to her to notice. “Thomas, that’s quite enough. You sit back down this instant.”
“Yuh-Yes, Ms. Obluda.” He nearly sprinted back to his seat, shaking more this time. He curled up his legs, as if that seat were his safe spot in the room.
“Thomas, you’re going to work on that pesky, little stutter. Do you understand me?”
“Yes… Yes, Ma’am.”
“Ah, even better. See, Thomas? There’s still hope for you yet.” She jolted her ghastly-thin body back up, starting to walk back and forth in front of the class. Her voice was louder now. It was loud enough for all of us to hear very clearly, but with no letting go of the enunciation at all. “I don’t know how your previous teacher, Mrs. O’Brien, thought she managed to handle all of you. I, however, will make some changes in this classroom. Very serious changes, indeed. There will be no sort of tomfoolery, especially…” Her head jerked to face poor Tommy, who still shivered in his chair. “From you, Thomas.” It turned back to face forward as she continued to pace. “We are all here to learn, not to slack, or horse around! This is a very serious time. It’s a time where you are all to be molded into good, proper students of value, and production. You will all learn to have a respect for the adults around you, and a very serious discipline. Discipline will not to be held back, you see. You must learn not only your numbers and your nouns, but also…” She stopped in her place for a moment. “Your self-control.” That woman was silent for a bit longer than before. “Now!”
We all jumped a little bit at that.
“We are going to begin to learn something we call ‘long division.’”
Long division? I don’t think that was something any other kids were learning until maybe the fourth grade. At least, that’s what I found out after children in other classes were tilting their heads at my mentioning of that mysterious thing called “long division.”
Tommy finally stopped shivering when that woman turned to the chalkboard to probably write in more, sort of squiggly characters. He smiled a little, turning to a girl who was just as short as him. She giggled quietly to herself when he whispered, “You think she might eat us? Maybe she’ll be hiding in the closet tonight.”
Right at the end of that sentence, just before the little girl’s giggling, that tight-wound freak turned her head, staring at him for a minute. Perhaps it was two. Even then, that grin of hers never moved. It didn’t move one bit. Her eyelids finally did though. I believe I saw one twitch a little bit. That’s another sort of fuzzy part. Her eyelids did squint at him somewhat though. For another minute, they stayed that way. Tommy and the little girl he amused looked back, gasping lightly, and sitting up still.
At this, the “replacement” turned her face back to the board after staring at them for just a few more seconds. Her wrist twitched a little bit more, writing some bit of numbers in chalk. She stopped in the middle of some math problem she squiggled.
The rest of us waited for something from her, whatever that something might have been. Maybe she’d “talk” to us again, regarding how serious our learning was, or maybe we’d be subjected to whatever kind of “discipline” she had in mind.
“Thomas!” She stood there still, and then stormed over to where he sat, practically goose-stomping. Her seemingly tall, maybe sickly-thin body stood above him. She kneeled down, her bulging eyes piercing into his. She whispered sort of loudly for a group of us to hear her. “Do you know what detention is? Hmm, do you? Perhaps you’ve never been disciplined before, but you’ll know, Little Thomas. What did I say before? When I ask you a question, I expect an answer.”
His eyes turned glassy as he responded, “N… No, Ma’am.”
“Well, you have the pleasure of finding out what it means, Little Thomas.” She stood back up, and went to the center of the room. “Yes, I can certainly tell you’re in need of discipline, Little Thomas. Yes, great discipline. Perhaps…” There was a tiny, muffled chuckle from her. “Perhaps a bit more. After school today? Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what I find… What I’ll find, well, appropriate for you.” She stormed back to the chalkboard. “Yes, what may be appropriate for you indeed.” That woman went back to her equation. “Oh no. Actually, not after school today. I want… I want you to think about what you’ve done, and the sort of punishment just suiting for a scoundrel like you. There will be absolutely no disrespect in my classroom, you see. None at all. I will show you, and the rest of you a zero tolerance for that sort of thing. Yes, quite an example needs to be made of you, Little Thomas. Indeed. Quite… Quite an example.” The rest of the school day went on. She went on to have us attempt to do this long division mentioned before, as well as a bit of proper grammar, and a little bit of early history of America. She used that portion to tell us of George Washington, and such, I believe. My memory of what else still stayed unclear to me until the bell finally rang. The end-of-day announcement spoke above us from the sound system, and thankfully, it was time for us to leave that classroom, and that building.
According to my recollection, my nervous self inquired to my parents what this “detention” was. They asked if I got myself into trouble. I let them have my honest answer of a “no.” Then, they explained to me that “detention” was when you would have to stay after school, alone, for maybe an hour, or however long you were supposed to stay there until getting picked up. The thought of Poor Tommy staying alone with her? With her? Oh God, the image alone made my heart speed up, and my arms petrify a little bit. Jesus, what was that going to be like? What was she going to do to him then? For some reason, I didn’t want to tell them about Ms. Obluda. I guess I thought they’d shrug it off as being silly as the times when just a five-year-old version of me would ask them to check the closet for any monsters before going to sleep. I could vaguely remember staring at my closet door that night after the lights were out though. It was the first time since my naive self stopped believing in monsters. In the darkness, my eyeballs stared at it, like maybe they were waiting for her to be in there, watching me.
As you would probably have imagined, my somewhat sleep-deprived body felt more tired than usual the next morning. Sitting on the bus ride there, I remember nodding off a little here and there. There was still a piece of my trembling brain urging me to stay awake. God only knows what might have happened if I were daring and stupid enough to shut my eyes in that classroom for even a second. My fingers quivered more and more as we got closer to the school that morning. Now that I think about it, this was the first time I noticed Tommy not on the bus at all that morning. What tipped me off was the lack of hearing his usual, mischievous and joyful giggles. Those were the times where he’d tell some student or another about a silly cartoon that he was just watching the previous night before having to go to sleep. That part of my mind was sighing, a crawling heaviness being taken away from it. The idea that he managed to stay home that day really soothed me. Hell, maybe he even managed to get out of that class all together. That thought made me smile, and even kind of envy a little at how lucky he must have been.
Along with a few others destined to return to that classroom almost every day of the week until the summer, I crept in. Walking to our tiny seats, we saw no Ms. Obluda, but we still looked around periodically. Similar to the previous day, there was no talking. It was all nothing but a cold, deathly silence. The only thing to comfort me, even though it wasn’t by a whole lot, was seeing Tommy not in the room. Maybe he really did manage to get out of it. If that were the case, I’d have to give him some respect for how sly he was.
Still dragging itself through time, the silence went on, as was waiting for her to show up. It would’ve been any second, but time felt so slow nonetheless. I could look up at the clock, and see the second hand slowing down little by little. The silence in the room gradually chilled our bodies a bit more by each, slowed down tick on the clock. It broke at last when one of the girls in the last had a couple tears running down her pudgy cheeks, and she cried, “I wish Mrs. O’Brien was back.” As she sniffled, one of the kids next to her gave her a hug, but said nothing.
That woman suddenly came into the entrance of the room. Not sure if any of us quite saw how, but it was like she sort of just appeared there, as some kind of apparition. She just stood there. With that same, never-changing expression, that… That woman just stood there! Just as stiff as the day before, her hair was tied in the same, perfect bun, and she wore that same outfit as then as well. It makes me wonder if she only had that one, or just many of that very selection of clothes. They were all tucked and such just as perfectly as before too. Everything about her seemed exactly as the previous day in school. Well, except for one thing. This time, she had something additional to what she brought in on this day.
That something was a metal tray of some kind, but none of us were quite tall enough to see what it was. She walked over to “her” desk, set the tray and her other things down, and told us, “Good morning, students!”
A few us trembled in our tiny seats as we all responded with, “Good morning, Ms. Obluda.”
“A bit of an improvement from yesterday, Everyone. Not to worry though. We’ll be working on the…” She stopped, gazing directly forward, and putting her hands behind her back as if she were hiding something. “The enthusiasm. I thought maybe it’d be nice to bring in a special treat for all of you today, but that won’t be until after class.” That grin on her tight face stretched out just a little more.
My miniscule hand quivering, it rose up in the air from my own curiosity.
The “replacement” pointed her unusually thin finger at me. “Yes?”
“Um, Mih-Ms. Obluda?” At my little stutter there, her fingers gripped the edge of the desk she was at.
“What is it?”
“What’s this special treat?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise, you see. If I told you, it’d be ruined.” She tactfully stuck this tray of unknown underneath the desk, away from our sights. That woman looked around the room. “Oh? Is Tommy absent today? How very shameful. What I brought for you all today was made especially with the thought of him. Shame, shame. Perhaps I’ll save his for tomorrow.”
There was just a very faint sniffle heading towards us. Seconds coming and dying away, it became a bit clearer. What entered our vicinity was what brought me more dread than my soul anticipated. The entity that approached us was actually a party of two. First, it was some woman my eyes only saw that single instance. The other, holding her hand, was a somewhat puffy-eyed Tommy, still sniffling. My assumption here was that this woman who sort of pulled him back to this abyss was his mother, unknown of what was to come.
The newly arrived woman said to the fate-bringer of our room, “I’m so sorry Tommy’s late today. He just didn’t want to come to school today.”
Ms. Obluda’s smile grew by maybe another inch at seeing him here after all. “I’m quite relieved to see that he won’t be absent today. I was a tad worried, you see. It’s just that there’s… There’s to be quite a bit of learning to be done today.”
“Oh, yeah, no problem.” I think the lady who brought Tommy in had a few goosebumps, judging by the little spasms to be noticed in her shoulders that moment. She bent down to the sniffling boy, telling him something, kissing his forehead, and telling him her goodbyes.
Obluda waited, and watched the other woman leave. She remained silent for a few more seconds, pivoting her eyes back to us. “Now then, Little Thomas!”
The kid jumped, turning to face her from the other side of the room.
“Take your seat, and there will be no tears today. Do you understand?”
“Yuh-Yes, Ma’am.” He walked over to his chair, watching her as he did. Even when he was sitting down, the started boy kept his careful eyes on her.
“Perhaps you’re to be considered lucky, Thomas. In all other cases, a stutter is certainly the irritation. However, in your case? I can let it slide. There’s to be no need to my correcting of it. I believe the detention for after school today should take care of it just fine.”
His? Only his? Why only his? Sure, whenever that woman arrived, Tommy’s new stutter was the boldest out of all of ours. Why his in particular was the exception was beyond my seven-year-old’s understanding.
Either way, the spiders that were in my chest were making their way past my spine, to my pelvis. The more my pupils looked at that woman, and the more my little mind wondered, the more I could feel the ends of their prickly legs going about my bones.
The school day was sort of the same as the previous one. The collective of us children was a bit more on-guard than before. To my remembering, the other kids in the room were watching the teacher throughout the day. They certainly were doing it a bit more than me. We struggled a little bit with this long division stuff at first, and it especially didn’t help how she’d just say things like, “Come on, two goes into six how many times?” Apparently, she just expected a seven or eight-year-old to just know these things.
With each creaking second, the hands on the clock in the room finally ticked their way until reaching the hour of three. It’s not so sure to me if anyone was really giving any mind to the announcements echoing above us. We really just kept staring at the woman who never changed the expression on her face. We sat there, in perfect silence, in total motionlessness, waiting to see what she might have planned for us.
They finished, and Ms. Obluda marched to her desk from the chalkboard, which was still cluttered with her writing. She looked at the tray, picked it up, and moved her lips. “Before you all leave today, I’d like to give you all the special treat I promised this morning.”
She walked around the classroom, handing one of whatever was on it to each child in the room. That woman approached me, her eyes stabbing into my very essence, and said, “I hope you all like chocolate. Then, it could finally be seen, whatever that something was. We each were handed a paper plate, with some homemade brownie, each with a child’s name written on it in green. Whether it was some kind of baking gel, that wasn’t to my knowledge. It wasn’t something my brain would’ve thought about. They did seem pretty harmless. I mean, they were just brownies, right?
We were dismissed from that day’s schooling. Throwing our used, paper plates into the trash, we all walked out. Of course, Tommy tried to as well. Actually, he seemed to think that being in the middle of the group would prevent him from staying later.
No, a chuckle vibrated past Ms. Obluda’s flawlessly white teeth before she asked, “Oh, Little Thomas, where do you think you might be going?”
He stopped right there, turning his head to her. I could see his face turn a bit paler as he looked her back in the eyes, waiting for her to say something else.
She told him, “I hope you haven’t forgotten the after-school arrangement for today.”
“Thomas, does your mother know about this detention for today?”
“Ah, yes, because you hadn’t planned on coming at all today, isn’t that right?”
“Not to worry your little head, Thomas. I will be gone only momentarily to inform her. A call over the telephone should do quite fine.”
He stood there. He just stood there, looking frozen in place. There were no words coming back from him at all.
Another kid from class was tugging on my shirt a little bit. “Come on,” he urged me. “You don’t want to miss the bus ride home, do you? Besides, you don’t want to stay here any longer, do you? I mean, with the teacher, and everything.”
A small bolt of shock hit that back piece of my brain. Did she hear what he said? Maybe not. There was no way to tell, but judging by how she reacted, or rather, didn’t at the moment, perhaps not.
Naturally, my little self caught up with the rest of the herd. Still, I just couldn’t help look back as Tommy crept back to his seat with his head facing downward.
Quickly gathering my things from the shelves outside the classroom where we’d put them every morning, my feet scurried me to outside. While the school bus that took me home every afternoon was starting to load up kids to drive from the building, I had to see. My instincts wouldn’t let me not go to that window into my classroom to see what was going on. It’d only take me a couple seconds or so to just have a small look inside, so it was my decision to take the gamble.
Getting to that window, my pupils witnessed a sort of thing never really seen from Tommy before. Sure, it felt a little bit unnatural to see him still at his seat. It wasn’t so much that which struck my attention though. It was the fact that he looked sound asleep. His head down, he was facing me, his eyes shut. Never could I, or maybe any of the other kids in class picture him being asleep. Usually he was always moving about in some fashion or another. The notion of his body so relaxed like that just felt like a hard crack to my imagination.
There was something else going on that was equally as confusing though. It was over to the teacher’s desk, where she could be seen. Ms. Obluda was bent down, reaching for the oblivious underneath the desk. When she stood back up was where the real confusion began, and manifested in my skull. Each second, it only grew larger. It was what she held in one of her hands. She set it down, on the desk. This wasn’t the same, “surprise treat,” like before. No, it was a box of Hefty garbage bags.
Pulling one from its box, she stopped in place. The woman turned her eyes, and then the rest of her skull turned with them to face me. Those eyes, they were absolutely motionless. They jabbed into mine like hot needles would. God, my flesh shivered as the burning from her eyes swirled down into my soul.
That smiled stayed cemented in her face, making my skin colder. She knocked on the window at me, shooing me away with her hand. Her piercing staring continued until my instincts pulled me away, and I was running to the bus.
My biggest regret was going back to the bus. I was still only seven though, and there was still the chance to do something about it at least. The whole ride home though, there was no conversation from me. The kids on the bus who usually talked with me asked what was wrong, but my tongue felt too swollen for me to know how to tell them. All they saw was my body quivering, and my eyes wide, staring ahead, but looking at nothing.
The end of my bus ride arrived. As soon as the rolling tires of the long, yellow ferry from what may have been the Gates of Hell slowed down to a stop, my gut led my feet to run. Run. Run home as quickly as my little legs possibly could. There wasn’t any time for me to think, just run.
Practically crashing through the front door of my house, my parents saw how much I was shaking, immediately asking what was wrong. They needed to know. Trying my best not to stutter, as if that woman were following me like some kind of phantom, I told them what happened that day. They had to know what my innocent eyes saw just after school.
As soon as my story was finished, my dad rushed to the phone to call the police. When he got a hold of them, my mom took me away from the phone call to the living room. Turning on the television, she flipped the channel on to Cartoon Network because she knew how I adored some of the shows, especially “Dexter’s Lab”. The sounds of the television drowning those of Dad’s phone call, Mom kept telling me throughout whatever silly show was playing that it’d be okay. Her hands were trembling on my little body as she tried endlessly to cease my fears of whatever may be happening with Tommy and that woman. After a little while, she told me to go outside, and play with some of my friends. Mom knew that always brought smiles out of me by the hour when it was time to come back inside.
Doing as she told me, I knocked on a couple doors of kids nearby who often played with me. Even then, they could still see the restlessness in my eyes. We all rode our bicycles for a little bit, and they tried asking me what was wrong again. Finally a bit calmer, I worked up the ability to tell them. Letting them know my dad called the police, they sincerely told me that the police should be able to take care of everything. Everything would be okay, right? They were the police after all. Of course they could save the day, right?
When the evening hours took over that day, and it was time for me to come back inside, I asked what the police said. Dad told me that the cops were going to do everything they could, and that everything would be fine. Now, thinking back, something about his tone didn’t seem entirely sincere.
For a few days after, my parents insisted that it wasn’t time for me to go back to school. It was the same way for several other kids too, especially the ones in my class, as far as my memory serves. Naturally, being a child whose concerns were usually just playing outside, and whatever shows might be on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, I didn’t mind staying home at all.
Persistently, my curiosity still had me asking Dad what happened as far as the police doing something. Instead of telling me anything else really, all he said was that they’re going to make sure everything was okay. Sometimes, he’d just end the conversation with, “Just go watch your cartoons,” or “Have you finished your homework tonight?” Either he didn’t know anything as of that moment, or simply didn’t want to talk about it. Regardless, I couldn’t blame him.
Of course, we all went back to school not too, too long after. Things were a tad different though, naturally, and thankfully. We had a new teacher we took a liking to. She wasn’t quite like Mrs. O’Brien, or whatever her name may have actually been. This third one still tried to make learning fun for us though. I can’t say that my recollection of this third teacher is very vivid though. We didn’t, however, see Tommy in the class anymore. It was told to us by said, third teacher that he very shortly moved away. Needless to say, it put our little minds at some ease, and we gradually mentioned Ms. Obluda less and less as the school year went on.
Years later, very recently, actually, he finally decided to tell me. It was perhaps a month or two ago, when he sat me down after I came back from a day’s worth of college. Dad sat me down in the living room, telling Mom now and again that it was time I found out the outcome of what happened in those years past. He kept saying to her each time that I was old enough to know. From the very second he had me sitting down on the living room couch to have this talk, there was a black, oily churning in my brain. It felt thicker as all the memories of then came rushing back like a sudden wave of dirty water.
Dad was sort of spoke slowly when he asked me, “Do you remember when you were in second grade, and you came rushing home the one day after school? You told us about how scared you were about your classmate in detention?”
That’s when everything came swirling back into my memories. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m starting to.”
“Well, maybe about a couple months later, they found out what happened, more or less. They found out what happened with that boy in your class. What was his name? Timmy?”
“I think so. Wait, no, it was ‘Tommy’.”
“Yeah, ‘Tommy’, that’s right. It’s pretty grim, but it’s about time you knew what happened.”
Listening carefully, the veins in my limbs constricted. They felt like they were gripping tight on to something when I was leaning inwards.
“They found him.” He looked down, then back at me.
“‘Found him’? He-He went missing after that?”
“Yeah. Yeah, he did.”
“Was… He was okay, right?”
Dad hesitated for just a moment. “They…”
“They found him okay and everything, right? Right?”
“The police found his body stuffed in Hefty garbage bags washed up on the river shore downtown.” His eyes looked down again.
“Wha-What?” Tommy… Poor, little Tommy. “He…”
“The police found a lot of bruising around his neck.” Dad’s voice turned a little quieter, and slightly more hesitant. “He was probably strangled.”
“What…” I swallowed, my arms completely stiff, and my fingers gripping my thighs. “They caught her, right? They caught that woman who did it, right?”
He didn’t say anything at first.
My words became louder, a very small bit of cold sweat going down my forehead. “They caught her, right?”
“I wish I could say that, but they never found her.”
“How? How did they not find her!?”
“They’ve been searching for her for some time. They never found her.”
“Did they at least have any leads?”
“Sort of. Apparently, she’s been going by several, different names for a while now. Occasionally, someone would recognize her face, but nobody seems to know where she might’ve went.”
“What about now?”
“Nothing new. They haven’t found anything else.”
“Are-Are you saying she’s still out there!?”
“We don’t know. I wish I did, and I wish the cops did too. She might be still out there somewhere, or she might be dead in a ditch. We don’t know.”
From that point on, it was made sure by me that I’d keep in some kind of touch with the police about this. I wouldn’t let the cops forget about this. I couldn’t. That woman could easily still be out there in the world, somewhere. Maybe she’s in prison in another piece of the country. Maybe she’s in another institution, under another name, doing what we could only imagine. The local police I’d keep in touch with, though, consistently tell me the same thing, “We haven’t found anything.” I just hope to God that someone else did.
Credited to Dylon Winfield