ALL SOULS DAY
If a demon and its servants ruled your ordinary town, demanding an annual virgin sacrifice, would you have the courage to stop them? And at what price? This question confronts Amos Ross, Suzie Mitchell, and Vickie Riordan, high school seniors in the new horror novel, All Souls Day.
In an alternate reality of the 1980's, twenty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis triggered World War III and left the United States a devastated wasteland, the ancient, demonic god Moloch, whose worship was forbidden by the Old Testament, exercises absolute control over the Philadelphia suburb of Chatham's Forge. The town is an oasis of prosperity that the nuclear war hardly touched, but its comfort comes at a fearful cost: at the high school prom every year, the prettiest and most popular senior girl is chosen by Moloch and his servant, the evil Pastor Justin Bello, to be spirited away to a former National Guard armory known as the Castle, where she is imprisoned alone for five months only to be beheaded and eaten alive by the demon on All Souls Day, the second of November, the anniversary of the war. And this year, 1985, it's Suzie's turn...
Honestly it doesn’t bother me that much, standing before Carmen’s bloody eviscerated remains for the required ten seconds. First of all, I didn’t like her that much before she became the Virgin Sacrifice for All Souls Day, 1984, and second of all, what’s left of the Virgin Sacrifice after Our Lord and Protector Moloch gets through with her doesn’t look much like a human being. Now don’t get me wrong: even a classic bitch like Carmen doesn’t deserve to end up stretched out on the hood of Jack Kolver’s charcoal-gray 1963 Ford Thunderbird with her heart torn out and her other internal organs turned into ground chuck. As tradition dictates, her head had been sliced neatly off and propped up on the stretched-out V-shape of the reflector, like a hideous hood ornament. Her long chestnut hair is swept back, the ends of the long strands dipping into the shores of the lake of blood that covers most of the hood. The steely gray eyes are wide open, staring directly into mine as I stand in the prescribed “respectful” stance, legs slightly apart, hands clasped together in front of me, head bowed (but not, Moloch forbid, so much that any of the horror before me is out of my field of vision). The delicate lashes still have carefully applied mascara on them and her coral lipsticked lips are slightly parted as if she’s about to speak. “Isn’t this ironic,” she might be about to say, if she knew any words longer than two syllables, “I was the coolest of the cool girls, captain of the cheerleading squad, and you’re a nobody, and yet here I am ripped to shreds by a god, and you’re alive and breathing!” Yeah Carmen, it’s ironic all right.
A tap on my shoulder lets me know that time’s up. Actually it’s not a tap, it’s my best friend Vickie stumbling into me and almost knocking me over. It’s not her fault though, the person behind her in line has given her a shove and she has lost her balance. I help her stand up straight. Her brown eyes are wide and her freckled face is pale; I give her arm an extra squeeze before stepping away. It’s the most I can get away with, in hopes she’ll get through her ten seconds this year without losing it like she always does. She almost makes it, too, but on nine I hear her retching.
Oh, Vickie. I wish I could do something for her, like at least hold back her shoulder length red hair while she heaves. But she’s smart enough not to have eaten anything this morning—if she spatters the T-Bird, they’ll give her five extra strokes. As it is, she’ll get away with ten, for disrespect. It’s like this every year for her. The other seniors like me have all learned to deal somehow.
I talk to her about it when she finally joins me back at my house. Of course she can’t sit down, so I give her my usual lecture while she stands shifting from foot to foot, wincing with pain as she sips from the vanilla milk shake my mom made for her.
“You have to pretend like you’re somewhere else. Like you’re someone else, watching yourself watching the thing you can’t bear to look at.”
“I know that, Suzie. I just can’t do it. I let it get to me every time. And I couldn’t even stand Carmen.”
“Me either. You’re a better person than me or the rest of us, Vickie.”
“Not better. Just weaker.” She sways a bit and leans against the wall.
I look at her with concern. “You gonna be all right for school? We have to get going soon.”
She nods. “I think so.” She grins feebly. “At least tomorrow’s the weekend.”
You’d think they’d give us the rest of All Souls Day off, but no, Dr. Dryden and the other powers-that-be have decreed that our education is too important, so they just make us stay two hours later. Doesn’t matter if you got disciplined like Vickie, or if you’re like poor Andy, the Sacrifice’s boyfriend. I made a mental note to be nice to him. We used to hang out until he started dating Carmen, who was a year ahead of us, and got too cool for me and Vickie. But when she was Anointed, his stock crashed in a hurry.
So I’m all ready to forgive him when I see him mooning around his locker an hour later, dressed in jeans and a baggy maroon sweater. “I’m sorry, Andy,” I say, touching his shoulder lightly.
He turns his head and looks down at me with those big brown eyes full of unshed tears. “Thanks, Suzie. Everyone else is acting like I’m invisible. I just don’t get it.”
Well, you were acting like going out with the queen bee made you king of the jungle, I think. I crane my neck, making sure there’s nobody listening before I risk saying “Everybody’s just scared, that’s all.” So scared, we’re scared of being overheard saying we’re scared. Hence the famous Chatham’s Forge Neck Swivel.
“That’s not really why, though, is it?” he says.
I have a sick feeling I know what he’s going to say next, but stupid me, I asked for it by talking to him in the first place. Maybe everyone else knows what they’re doing, keeping their distance. “What do you mean, Andy?” I ask, playing dumb in hopes he’ll back out of it gracefully. But no.
He doesn’t even do the Swivel before growling, “Now everyone knows that we didn’t do it! That she wouldn’t let me!”
“Oh, Andy,” I mutter, looking down at the worn gray tiles and wishing someone, anyone, would rescue me from this conversation.
“She barely even let me get past first base before she was Anointed.”
“I’m sorry, Andy. I’ve got to go… help Mr. Hall set up for history class.”
“What setup?” he yells after me as I skitter away. “All he does is pull down that same tattered old map every day!” The hallway is filling up with people, and I catch one or two amused glances as I hurry around the corner, clutching my books to my chest as if they can protect me from the embarrassment.
The bell rings just as I tumble into my seat. Vickie leans over from the left and hisses, “You’re late! Nice going!”
“Not my fault. Andy trapped me. What’s the big deal, anyway? Hellcat Hall isn’t even here yet.”
“Somehow he always knows!”
A Nerd whose name I can’t remember dashes in just ahead of Hall and makes for the back of the room. He’s wearing a plaid shirt and squarish eyeglasses, as the rules require for his caste, but the shirt is untucked and the glasses are askew as he fumbles with his books, to titters from the class. I don’t join in. That could just as easily be me, with my blouse untucked or the bottom of my skirt an inch too high or an inch too low for a Nice Girl, and then I’d be in the same kind of trouble.
Hall stomps into the classroom and straight over to the Nerd’s desk. He slams his right hand on it, palm down, so the books slide off into the poor schmoe’s lap. “Ross! You’re late AND your uniform is out of order!” With some teachers a demerit like that would be delivered almost apologetically, but the Hellcat enjoys getting all red in his blocky face. The giggling rises in pitch and volume as the Nerd—Amos, that’s his first name—mumbles an apology.
“See me after class,” Hall says, spinning his bulky body on his heel. “You too, Mitchell. I saw you trying to sneak in here late.” I slump in my seat. Busted again. And Vickie’s his next target. “Riordan, your top button’s undone. Trying to get male attention with a flat chest like that? What kind of Nice Girl are you?” She blushes furiously while the class just about loses it. Hey, here’s an idea: What if Moloch liked the taste of strapping big, old lechers like Hall better than that of teenage virgin girls? We might be living in a better world.
The bell saves Vickie from further humiliation, and Hall takes up his post behind his huge wooden battleship of a desk as the loudspeaker comes on. “Good morning, students,” says the prim and proper voice of the principal, Dr. David Dryden, known as Drydick behind his back. “I hope everyone is fully attentive in class after this morning’s break. Your teachers and staff have planned a Friday full of important lessons for nobody’s benefit but yours, and I have personally instructed them not to accept any nonsense.”
“Except my own,” says Tom, in a perfect imitation of Dr. Dryden’s voice. Everyone cracks up except Mr. Hall, who scowls. But he can’t do anything, of course, because Tom is the Class Jester, which means he gets to say what the rest of us only think. Within limits, of course.
By now, Dr. Drydick has moved on to announcements. “Tonight’s Game against the Linwood High Lions is sacred to the memory of Carmen Collins. As a reminder, which I am sure most of you do not need, that means cheering is to be kept within the limits of decorum.” We had that word on our vocab quiz in English last week. I’m pretty sure the definition didn’t say anything about bloody, severed heads. “The cheerleading squad for our own Chatham Cheetahs will set the tone themselves in memory of their very own Anointed.” Which means we’ll be jumping around in ankle-length skirts, perfect for tripping over and breaking a bone. Great, just great. Even dead, she’s making my life a misery. The loudspeaker drones on. “Any student who does not pay the proper respect, will pay in other ways.” Dr. Dryden takes a phlegmy breath. “The Yearbook Committee will meet this afternoon in the chemistry lab instead of the art room. The Homecoming Planning Committee will have its last regular meeting in the cafeteria after B lunch. The rest of you, be sure to buy your tickets this afternoon. They will not be sold at the gym door Saturday night and you will not be admitted. Have a blessed and studious day, everybody. And now, Sunny Masters will lead us in the prayer.” I like Sunny, but she really takes being a Nice Girl too far. I’m sure everyone else thinks so, too, but we all rise and face the flag, our hands over our hearts, and murmur along with her piping voice:
Our Protector, who dwelleth beneath us
Exalted be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom among us
Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in all the realms.
Guard us this day from the darkness without
As we guard Thee from the Infidels.
Our lives in Thy hand, our souls are Thine
Forever and ever, amen.
What is the actual point of the prayer they make us say every morning? If they’re trying to sniff out sinful thoughts, it doesn’t work very well, because I’m standing right behind Suzie (who probably doesn’t know who I am), and my thoughts are definitely not of the awesome protective power of Moloch, our demon lord. If I were thinking of him, it would be to negate every word they make us say in His praise. But an unapproved crush is almost as good a rebellion, especially if it’s a Nerd like me crushing on a Nice Girl. Or so I tell myself as I gaze longingly at her crisp white blouse with the ironed collar, her purple skirt and the regulation length of calf displayed below. Her light brown hair falls straight to her collar, the strands neatly held in place by a purple barrette with a little butterfly in its right corner. How could you not fall in love with a girl with a butterfly barrette?
Being a Nerd I will naturally crush on just about anything in a skirt, such as Suzie’s freckled friend Vickie, who has even smiled at me once or twice. I crushed on the distant cruel goddess Carmen when she was alive, even before she was Anointed and became unavailable to any mortal boy—though if she’d known it she would’ve said, “Eww, gross!” and sicced one of her Jock admirers on me, so of course I kept my thoughts to myself. But none of these useless crushes are as intense as what I feel for Suzie, and she doesn’t even know it. She doesn’t seem like the kind of Nice Girl who would laugh pityingly at me. I even like to imagine she would give me a real smile—even a peck on the cheek—as she turns me down in the wild fantasy where I actually Ask Her Out.
Well, now we’ll have one thing in common: being subjected to Mr. Hall’s discipline together after class. He’s been known to get weirdly… creative, with the punishments.
Right now, though, it’s down to the business of history. He starts by pulling down the old moth-eaten window shade-style wall map and smacking it with his pointer. How he always manages to make everybody jump, even though we know his habits by now, is a mystery. I also wonder how the map still hangs together even though he tears a new hole in it every time. “Ross!” he bellows. “Since you were late, and tried to sneak in behind my back, perhaps you’ll be so good as to tell me what the capital of the Soviet Union was.”
“Moscow,” I say.
He scowls at me. “My apologies, I forgot I was talking to a know-it-all Nerrrd.” The class snickers. I close my eyes for a moment, wishing I could kill them all. Except for Suzie, and I guess Vickie. “Yes, that’s right, Ross. And why isn’t it the capital of the Soviet Union anymore?”
“Because there is no Soviet Union anymore, Mr. Hall.”
“And why is that, Ross?”
“Because of the War of the Judgment, Mr. Hall.”
“Very good. But let’s give someone else a chance, to tell us what else the war was called.” He drops the pointer, picks up a globe and throws it at the head of Andy, Carmen’s poor ex-boyfriend, who is staring out the window. The globe hits the Jock’s head and he snaps around with an angry cry.
“I’m sorry, Andrew, what was that you said?” Mr. Hall sneers.
“I said, why’d you have to hit me?”
“To get you to pay attention. Now why don’t you try answering my question, you little delinquent?”
Little? Andy’s almost as tall as Mr. Hall. Almost as muscular. If they fought, I’d give even money on Andy pounding the sadist’s face to a pulp. What a pleasant thought. Unluckily, he’s not in the mood for confrontation right now. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hall, could you please repeat the question?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Hall, could you please repeat the question?” the teacher mimics. Then he stomps over to Andy and flicks his earlobe. “Clean the wax out of your ears, boy! What’s the other name for the War of the Judgment?”
“The Cuba War, sir.”
Mr. Hall slow-claps. I fantasize about breaking his hairy hands. “Right for once! And why was it called the Cuba War?”
Andy shrugs. “Because the atom bombs were shaped like cubes?” The class laughs, though I’ll bet less than half of them know the answer, and Andy earns another ear-flick.
“Wrongo! Does anyone know the right answer?” Mr. Hall looks around, but only Vickie has her hand up. He sighs theatrically. “Yes, Freckles. How did the War of the Judgment get its other name?”
“It was called the Cuba War because it was fought over the island of Cuba, where the Russians had put a bunch of their atom bombs.”
“Perfect answer, Freckles, except for one thing.” Vickie’s nervous grin quickly fades as she studies Mr. Hall’s face, trying no doubt to figure out what he’s going to do to her. But all he does is get in her face and holler, “We called them the Reds! And we used to say, better dead than Red! Which was pretty good, since after the War, they were both Red and dead!” He holds his sides as he rocks back and forth with laughter, which stops abruptly when Tom says quietly, “But so were most of us.”
At that, Mr. Hall spins on his heel, stalks over to Tom’s desk, and grabs both sides of it, shoving his big face right up next to Tom’s. “Listen, Sawyer, I know you’re the class Jester, but there are some things even you aren’t allowed to say.”
Tom looks placidly back at the teacher and says, “My last name’s not Sawyer, Mr. Hall. It’s De Angelo.”
“But why not Sawyer? It’s a good name for you. You can stay after school with Mitchell and Ross and help whitewash the fence.” Again Mr. Hall is hugely amused at his own joke. The class chuckles again, more at Tom’s misfortune than at the literary reference, which they probably don’t get. Only my weird family takes the chance of having lots of vaguely dangerous books around the house. Along with one or two really dangerous ones.
Mr. Hall stands up straight, first giving the desk a good shove so it goes into Tom’s stomach. Tom gives the teacher a look of pure hatred, but he’s turned his back and switched into lecture mode, striding around waving his pointer. “You kids! You’re ignorant! You weren’t even a perverted gleam in your fathers’ eyes when the War happened. You don’t remember Kennedy, that good-looking playboy son-of-a-gun, or that old potato sack Khrushchev. But even you ought to know the war didn’t kill anyone worth worrying about. All those degenerates over there,” and he waves his hand at the wall on the right, north toward what was once Philadelphia and New York City, “they were mutants of the spirit even before they were burned and blasted and the survivors became mutants of the flesh. And many people in this town were just as bad! It’s only thanks to Joannie Kolver that Moloch arose to save Chatham’s Forge, the day a Russian bomb destroyed Philadelphia, twenty-two years ago today, on All Souls Day, November the Second, 1962.”
“Joannie’s memory be praised,” we all mutter, as required. Her deed, so they always teach us, was the ultimate in self-sacrifice, since she was the first to satisfy Moloch’s hunger on the hood of her father’s Ford Thunderbird. Her perfect, toothily grinning portrait with that famous scarlet ribbon in her piled-up blond hair hangs everywhere, in every school corridor, in the Town Hall, and in a respected place in each family’s living room. For a while before I was born the town was even known as Kolverville. They changed it back after Jack Kolver set himself on fire right in front of the gazebo in Shirley Jackson Park, on the eve of All Souls Day, when the next Sacrifice would be made. Well, he should have felt guilty. If not for his stupid daughter, Moloch would never have risen and there would be no Sacrifices. That’s a thought I don’t dare breathe to anyone except my parents.
Mr. Hall goes on with his ranting for a while. I tune in just enough to be able to answer if he whacks the pointer down on my desk. Otherwise I’m back to daydreaming about Suzie. It’s no use, no Nice Girl would ever go out with a Nerd. If there was such a thing as a Nerdette, she would be the proper object of my desire. But they don’t exist. I talk this over sometimes with my friend Jeff, a Nerd like me though he’s tall enough, strong enough, and coordinated enough almost to be a Jock. “Do you think it’s because there aren’t any girls like us?” I’ll say.
And he’ll shake his head, run his hands through his curly brown hair, and smile wryly. “Nah. They’re all interested in clothes and makeup and dating Jocks. If there were girls who were interested in books and science, though, they’d never let them become girl Nerds.”
“And why’s that?” I don’t have to ask him who they are. Mayor Roland, Dr. Drydick, and teachers who are like Mr. Hall, which is most of them.
“Because they don’t want us breeding,” he says without cracking a smile. “It’s reverse natural selection. Survival and propagation of the stupidest.”
Maybe he’s right. It doesn’t require much brains to run this town, not with everybody knowing their duty to He Who Lies Beneath. It’s the big M who takes care of all the really hard stuff, like the Wall that keeps all the mutants and the radiation out, and the balmy local climate that makes our fields yield bumper crops every year. And to think, in the old days before the War, we weren’t a farming town at all, but a “suburb” of Philadelphia. It’s a point that Mr. Hall rams home in the second half of class, pulling down over the map of the former world a local map of our town and what can be glimpsed of the zone outside the Wall.
“Here’s the main highway to Philadelphia. They called it the Delaware Expressway,” he says, whacking the lower right quadrant with his pointer. “And the hordes came pouring down it, heading straight for Chatham’s Forge, when the city went the way of Sodom and Gomorrah on that first All Souls Day. But what happened?” The pointer is directed at a Nice Girl named Kristin.
“Moloch stopped them,” she quavers.
“Moloch stopped them,” Mr. Hall mimics. “How? What did he do with their worthless black bodies?”
Was everyone who lived in Philadelphia really a Negro? But Mr. Hall isn’t calling on me. The pointer turns on a strapping blond Jock named Bill Rockland.
Bill sneers and says, “He burned them with fire.”
“Correct! So there’s something besides corn between those ears. And what happened to the poisoned black rain that fell on our town from the burning of Philadelphia? Tina!”
She’s a short, brown-haired girl wearing the denim jacket uniform of the Punks, and she pops her gum before answering. “It turned to steam and floated away.”
“Correct! Will wonders never cease!” Does he really mean to go through the whole Liturgy? We get enough of that in church every Sunday, and Pastor Justin does a better hellfire sermon than Mr. Hall any day. But if this is what the Hellcat wants to talk about, as boring as it is, no one can stop him. And he does run the time out without picking on me again, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
When the bell rings, everyone files out except me, Suzie, and Tom. We approach his desk, our heads bowed with the prescribed measure of Respect for Elders, though Tom’s fists are clenched at his sides. Does he want to get in even bigger trouble? If so, I feel bad for him, but there’s nothing I can do to help him. I steal a glance at Suzie to my right. She’s clutching her books before her like a shield, and for a second our eyes meet. Did I ever notice before the amazing shade of green her eyes are? Not like the grass, but like the sun would be, if the sun were green. Maybe I could write a poem about that.
Mr. Hall makes three big red X’s beside our names in his gradebook, then looks up with a wolfish grin. “Well, my little delinquents! What shall I do with you?”
“You already gave us demerits,” Tom points out. “Maybe you can just leave it at that.” He spoils his defiance by running his right hand nervously through his carrot-colored hair.
“But then I’d be failing in my duty as an educator!” Mr. Hall says. “We can’t have that, not when you’re all repeat offenders. Mitchell and Ross, always late to class. Sawyer, always cutting up disrespectfully.” He spits the last word. He stands up, claps his hands, and rubs them together. “I know. You’re to report to my house, all three of you, right after school. I own the apple orchard at the east end of Brandywine Boulevard, the one where the Apple Harvest Festival is held. No dilly-dallying! I’ve got plenty of work for you.”
Suzie’s eyes widen. “But Mr. Hall! I’ll miss the Game. And Mrs. Turner said she’d kick me off cheerleading squad if I missed even one more Game.”
“Then I guess you shouldn’t have been late to class, missy. Any more objections?” He glares at Tom and me. Neither of us say anything. I hate the Games anyway. Me and Jeff must be the only two boys in Chatham’s Forge who do. Even the other Nerds go dutifully to cheer the Cheetahs on. Still, I don’t want to spend my Friday night slaving for Mr. Hall. The only saving grace is that Suzie will be there too.
The more I think about it, the more I’m secretly relieved that Mrs. Turner will probably kick me out of cheerleading. Who needs it anyway? I’m always twisting my ankle or pulling a tendon doing one of those pirouettes, which is why I’m on probation in the first place. The status that comes with squad membership isn’t really worth the pain, especially since none of the Jocks has expressed any interest in Going Steady with me. Oh, they’ll paw me in passing after a Game, especially “Rock-Solid” Bill Rockland, but everyone knows he’s going to Homecoming with Cindy Miller, she of the dazzling smile and long blond hair. Some of the teachers say she looks just like Joannie Kolver. They’ll never say that about me, with my mouse-brown hair and my scrawny neck.
When I give Mrs. Turner the news in Home Ec class, she scowls at me and shakes her head slowly but says nothing about kicking me off the squad. I wonder if she thinks it’s just as well I can’t come tonight because I wouldn’t be able to “maintain decorum.”
Good old Mrs. Turner, also known as Turnover, for the sexual position she’s rumored to favor. For the moment, she’s busy making sure we don’t kill ourselves on the ancient foot-pedal-powered sewing machines. Today we’re learning how to hem a dress, which I’m completely hopeless at. The only person worse at it than me is Vickie, who can’t keep her stitches straight for more than an inch at a time and is always having to pay for the cloth she ruins. If I do this right I could have something nice to wear while I hang out with Vickie in the back of the gym tomorrow night, vainly hoping someone will ask me to dance. But I’m less than halfway down the seam before the stupid sewing machine goes crazy and tries to kill me. Mrs. Turner is on the other side of the room when the trouble starts, but suddenly she’s at my side, knocking me out of my chair before the chattering needle can stitch up my arm. I suppose I should be grateful, but I’m too busy being embarrassed.
“Miss Mitchell, why can’t you sew a simple hemline?” she snaps. The dress rips loudly as she pulls it away. Someone snickers, and the teacher shakes her helmet of dark blond hair again. “You might as well spend the rest of the period practicing on these rags. They’re no good anymore for anything else. And Miss Riordan, what do you call that article of clothing? Hmm?”
“A... a party dress, Mrs. Turner?”
She shakes her head. “Not for a Nice Girl, it isn’t. Maybe I should send you down the hall to Madam Kelly’s class?” Where the Sluts are practicing the mincing walk they’ll use when they graduate to become Holy Hos at the Cathedral of Moloch. Vickie blushes furiously and tears stream down her cheeks. God, it’s not even lunchtime yet, and I don’t know how I’ll get through this day. Not with the long trek to Mr. Hall’s farm to look forward to at the end of it.
Cindy puts her hand up and squeals that she’s all done with “my gorgeous gown,” and with one last scornful glance at me and Vickie, Mrs. Turner turns on her high heels to go admire her pet’s handiwork. I do a quick Swivel before bending my head to reassure Vickie that it’s all right, even though not one but two teachers have threatened to change her caste. “They’re just being mean, Vickie. Nobody thinks you could ever be a Slut.”
“My mother would kill me,” she whispers, looking around fearfully.
“It’s not going to happen,” I try and comfort her. “Sluts are oversubscribed this year anyhow, after... after last year.” After the show that Kimmie Thurmont, the 1983 Virgin Sacrifice, put on for the whole town, I don’t have to add. No one in Chatham’s Forge will ever forget that night, the one and only time a Sacrifice wriggled free of her bonds and tried to escape. By now an occasional night passes where I don’t hear her in my dreams pounding on the door of my house, screaming and begging us to save her while Mom made me turn the light off and hissed that I should pretend like I couldn’t hear what was going on, since it had nothing to do with me.
On my way to math class, I stop by my locker to grab my textbooks and take a look at my hair in the little mirror I keep in there—the ratty old butterfly barrette is always sending loose strands flying, I’d never have worn it this morning if I’d had any other choice. As soon as I spin the combination and open the battered gray locker door a scrap of paper flutters down. I bend down automatically to pick it up and see there’s something written on it. A note? Nobody leaves me notes. Nobody needs to. Vickie and I are in practically every class together, and she’s not just my best friend, she’s my only friend. Let’s face it, for a cheerleader, I’m pretty unpopular. So who could be leaving me a note? A boy? The scrap of paper has been creased so tightly it’s practically wadded up, but the blue ink that bleeds through is from a pen that was pressed down so hard, only a boy could have done it. I hastily stuff it in my pocket and glance at the hallway clock in its metal cage. Three minutes to go until math—not enough time to sneak off to the girls’ room where I can read the note in the privacy of a stall. I’ll have to wait until lunch.
All through math I’m distracted, thinking about the note. Who could have written it? I can’t imagine it was Rock-Solid Bill. I’m not sure he even knows how to write. But who, then? The other Jocks are all Going Steady with somebody, and it can’t be a Punk, or a Nerd; they’re not even allowed to date Nice Girls, so why would one of them bother writing me a note? The mystery is complete. Vickie has to elbow me in the ribs to alert me that Mr. Fredericks is looking at me expectantly.
“I’m sorry, what was the question?”
He rolls his eyes, which should be annoying, but he’s really all right, with his sport jacket, round glasses, and curly black hair graying at the sideburns. “Come on, Miss Mitchell, it’s a simple question. If Farmer Jones produces twelve bushels of wheat this year after producing ten bushels last year, what is the percentage of the increase, and how much does he owe in tithe to Moloch?”
“Twenty percent, and half a bushel, Mr. Fredericks.”
He blinks behind his glasses—surprised that a girl can do math, and in her head, at that?—but then he smiles. “Very good, Suzie. Next time try paying better attention so I don’t have to repeat the question.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Vickie whispers, when Mr. Fredericks has turned his back.
I’m about to tell her about the note, but something stops me. “Maybe I’m still a little upset about Carmen,” I whisper back, feeling guilty about lying to my best friend. But it’s a little white lie that makes her eyes go round with sympathy, and she nods and whispers, “Me too.”
I consider whether there could be any truth in what I just said. I don’t think so. Maybe I’m already starting to forget what she looked like. Is that so terrible? She never spoke to me except to taunt me about what a clumsy cheerleader I am when she was alive, and she certainly wouldn’t be spending even one second remembering me, if our positions were reversed. Kimmie T., though, I think of just about every day, not counting the nightmares. She was two years older than me and two grades ahead in school, but she was my babysitter when I was little and she still smiled and said hello sometimes when we passed in the hall. That’s not really why I remember her, of course. It’s for the horrible way she died, and how it confirmed the sneaking suspicion I’d always had that the Sacrifices weren’t all like Saint Joannie, eager to spill their blood for the sake of Moloch. So yeah, I may not really miss Carmen as a person, but All Souls Day does put me in a funny mood. The note’s probably nothing, it’s got to be nothing, but it’s nice to have something to think about other than the Virgin Sacrifice.
Lunchtime finally arrives, and wouldn’t you know it, I have to stand in line for the girl’s room. Finally a stall door swings open and I duck inside and open the note. Three short lines, and it’s definitely a boy’s handwriting:
Were the sun as bright
As your eyes sparkle green, we’d
swim through seas of light
I’m so startled I drop the note on the damp, smelly floor and it skitters halfway under the barrier to the next stall. I snatch it up just as a hand reaches for it. A hand with scarlet-painted nails that can only be Cindy Miller’s; she was right ahead of me in line. “What’s the big secret, Mitchell?” she asks. I don’t answer. Disaster narrowly averted, I read the thing again. Seas of light? Poetry? Who writes poetry? There’s no signature, which raises my suspicions. What are these three-line thingies called, we had a test on that in English last month... haiku. Mrs. Foster said the form is usually used to describe stuff in nature, to capture a moment like a sunrise, rain stopping and a rainbow shining forth, or that held-breath moment on a moonless night when a cry of despair echoes through the streets... No. She didn’t say that last thing, of course. I shake my head to clear it. This has to be someone’s sick idea of a joke. I crumple the note up into a tiny ball, drop it in the toilet and flush. If I find out who put it in my locker, I’ll kick his ass.
Review by: deadaris, Charnel House Reviews
Anyone up for a little Virgin Sacrifice?
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