Navigating the complex labyrinth that is high school – friends, relationships, classes, and teachers – is challenging enough, but four friends find themselves grappling with the question of what’s more important: Loyalty or self-preservation? When Rock, Lilly, Damon, and Tom have a substitute teacher following the passing of their previous teacher, they react like normal high school students – joking, goofing off, and playing around until the new teacher displays a hidden “talent.” After students misbehave, she runs her long nails down the chalkboard, causing immense suffering amongst the teens. When a few suspicious incidents occur, Rock theorizes that their new teacher, Bella Christianson, has some mysterious unknown ability that is plaguing them.
After Tom, one of Rock’s friends, gets sick under mysterious circumstances, it’s up to Rock, his girlfriend Lilly, and his friend Damon, to find out what is going on with the new, young attractive sub, Ms. Christianson. There’s something about her that Rock finds uncontrollably hot, but at the same time, there’s something off about her. And to make matters worse, people keep turning up dead. Nonetheless, after being seduced, Rock begins a forbidden love affair with his teacher, all the while observing her strange behaviors. But how long can it last? Will Rock and his friends be able to survive their encounters with their dangerous teacher?
Bella Christianson tapped the hand-held board, she always had one in her reach. Chalk grains fell to the brown carpeted bedroom floor of her home in the southeast Louisiana parish of Orleans. She grunted then reminded herself of the more important issue and hit the board with her long, florally decorated nails.
“Sammy, c’mon, what’s taking so long? Most eighteen year old boys think of nothing else.” She smirked, certain her question would get him going. “Or are you a homo?”
Her student denied he was, groaned, and tried again. She asked if he was impotent, their intimate moments having gotten worse since that first night. He hadn’t satisfied her to her liking but she’d said she had faith in him. And she knew she was attractive, long auburn hair flowing toward a generous bosom, her smile a dentist’s dream. The fact she was an older woman to her male students was the clincher for them.
They were at her place, a nice benefit to Bella. She normally tutored Sam at his parents’ house but due to it being remodeled, he came here to prepare for tomorrow’s big exam.
“Ready?” She took her position again—on top as always─she dropped the board and encouraged him to finish.
The boy eyed his bonds. She told him trying to break free was pointless, and bragged she always knotted the rope in tight, bowline knots, too. The only way a boy could escape was if he took Alexander the Great’s approach to the Gordian Knot. No way Sam could do that in his current position nor did he possess the cutting instrument. He pulled his hands from the bedposts anyway. They went a few inches before the rope tightened and lashed his wrists.
The female told him defiance was not his best option, then slithered down to him and placed her lips on his. “You’re a guy, love sex, want to do it over and over. Here’s your chance.”
They interacted some more yet she did not reach satisfaction.
“Sammy? C’mon. You can do it.”
“I can’t,” the young man moaned.
“Yes you can.”
Sam did not even try.
The woman’s voice went flat. “What the hell is your problem? You leave me no choice though it will hurt me more than it’ll hurt you.” She watched sweat form on the teen’s forehead then saw him glance at the doorway. “Uh-uh.” Bella waved a finger back and forth. “You’re not going anywhere, you didn’t follow the lesson plan. So...”
She retrieved the slate-covered rectangle and with the deliberateness of someone touching a fine piece of china, slid her nails down the board.
“No!” Sam protested he didn’t want the results he’d experienced when she’d done this before: a fainting spell. Then one side of his body became paralyzed. The next time it was a seizure. The worst was a heart attack—something doctors could not explain, dismissing it as arrhythmia.
He pulled at the rope and tried to lift his legs. She stayed on top of him, all the while sliding her nails down the board.
“Please! No!” the young man cried. “I promise to put out. Give me a chance!” He grunted, lifted both legs.
The woman shot up as if atop a whale who’d used its blowhole. She screamed for help as the chalkboard fell to the floor. She landed next to it, shoulder first. Bella uttered profanity, said she’d planned only mild punishment, but now she guaranteed harsh retribution of the worst kind.
Sam raised his legs to the ceiling, fisted hands around the rope, and swung his legs back down. His back went up. The headboard collapsed to a forty five degree angle then snapped back against the wall, his head doing the same.
“Damn it, Sam!” Bella pushed his legs down, pinned her knees on his shoulders like before. In one hand she controlled the board, Sam’s undulating body not a distraction. “I warned you.” Down the slate the edges of her fingertips went. A high pitched squeal more deafening than music at the loudest rock concert invaded the room.
Sam’s eyes teared and his mouth frothed like a dog’s. She felt his legs rise underneath her. The nails continued their descent. More screeching. Sam’s eyes expanded and his body twitched, convulsing as if electrocuted. In a few moments, it went stiff.
Bella lowered her hand and slid off him, dropping the board on carpet. “I warned you,” she muttered, undoing his bonds. His eyes did not blink so she closed them, pushed the chalkboard under the bed, picked up the phone, and dialed the three numbers, this process now routine for her.
She sobbed when the person on the other end asked what her emergency was. “Something terrible happened! I don’t know how, it just did. Someone needs to get out here now! I hope it’s not too late to save him. Please!”
Months later in the town of Stillwater, Oklahoma, an hour’s drive southwest of Tulsa, the phone rang at Bella’s place.
“Yes, I remember you from when I walked in and applied...Really? Oh my God, how sad. Tragic. Wow...All right. I’m on my way and will be there shortly...Thank you, sir.”
Bella exhaled, glad she’d prepared financially for her ‘unwanted vacation’ as she called it. The time before this incident with Sam, parents had sued and although the case was dropped, she was relieved of her duties as high school algebra teacher. She’d had no savings then.
She’d picked this town by pointing randomly at a map then researched the place and location, nearly a half day’s drive away from where she’d lived. No one here would know her or her past.
She’d made a pledge to herself she wouldn’t go too far this last time then met Sam. And, damnit, the teen never did as told, took so long to come she had to do something to hasten the process. It’d just gotten out of hand.
Not this time, she thought, changed clothes, did some make-up and perfume, drove to the school, and met with higher ups who re-informed her of the job, gave her the fast lane tour then pointed to her Trigonometry class. Room 101.
She reached a hand on the doorknob, heard students’ muffled voices through opaque glass, and opened the door. Conversations halted. Heads turned to the entryway, faces blank.
“Good morning, class,” Bella sang out, spotted a small back closet, headed to it, and put her things there, then moved to the front desk. All the students watched—especially the boys. “Good morning, class,” she repeated, louder.
“Good morning,” students said in unison, a few mumbling “Miss...” before realizing they didn’t know her name. She wrote it on the chalkboard, smiled at the fact her class still had such an artifact, the small town school not having moved into the 21st century. She wouldn’t have to bring her own. As she wrote, boys in the back row whistled in hushed tones then tittered.
“Zip it,” Bella said. “And I don’t mean just your mouths. Keep that libido in check.”
The boys laughed knowingly.
“I’m serious,” Bella lectured.
The boys did not obey. The long white cylindrical object flew from her hand and hit the back wall.
“You’d better listen to me or else,” the teacher said.
“Or else what? You gonna send us to the principal?” one of the boys said as the others snickered. “Principal won’t do anything.”
Bella observed him: tall, brown hair and eyes, his face thin. He gnawed his lip. Bella smiled, he reminding her of previous mates. Cute, too. “Oh he won’t?” she asked, her eyes darker. “Is that so?”
The boys’ grins disappeared, they sat up in their chairs, cleared their throats, and shifted back and forth.
“Now you’re going to listen to me or else...” She looked at each student as if ready to sentence them to Old Sparky. “...or else this.” She clapped fingernails on the chalkboard, ran them down a few inches then observed reactions and smiled.
Students’ skin tones brightened. Expressions froze on their faces. A few shoulders trembled. One girl yelped. When their facial portraits melted, they glanced at each other as if to confirm they’d really heard it.
“Not a pleasant sound, eh?” Bella asked.
Students said nothing.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Now if you behave, do as I say, everything will be keen. You’ll enjoy this class and so will I, might even learn something.”
The boy who’d spoke earlier elbowed his buddy. “Not anything relevant since no one uses this stuff, not even—”
The squeal of nails on smooth black surface. The boy shivered and slapped a hand at his chest. “Oh my God, I’m having a heart attack! Help!” He lowered the hand while his buddies chuckled and he joined them.
Once more the nails ended their delight. “I told you, you’d better listen to me. Got it?” Bella glared at the boy who’d spoken then smiled. “What’s your name?”
Bella snapped her fingers, ordered the boy to stand when she addressed him. The boy staggered to his feet then tottered on each foot.
“I’m, um, I’m...”
“Yes, spit it out,” the woman said.
“Dick,” the boy next to the one standing said. “His name’s Dick.”
“Dick Weed,” another contributed.
The class erupted in laughter until Bella put her fingers on the board. “Funny. Now what is it really?”
“Dick,” the boy next to the one standing repeated.
“Is that true?” Bella raised an eyebrow as she stared at the tall, thin teen.
“Sorta,” the boy said.
“Sorta? Either it is or it isn’t.”
“It’s my real name. But I go by Rock. Rock Eller.”
“Rock?” Bella chuckled. “You certainly don’t look like your name.”
The class giggled.
Rock looked at the woman’s nails and flinched. “Umm, yes. Yes, ma’am, thank you. May I sit down?”
“You may.” The woman smiled. “You’re cute. What’s your friend’s name? Peter?” The class roared. The boy next to Rock stood and though thinner than his friend, his body was tighter, more compact, his gaze fixed on her hand. It did not go to the board.
“Damon,” the boy answered. Damon Parsons.”
“Okay, Damon, thank you, you may be seated. Now that we understand how to behave, let me introduce myself. I’m Bella...”
She described her previous job, left out where she’d taught, only referred to the location as “Back east.” She also omitted details about Sam, how investigators hadn’t come up with any clues of foul play and declared the boy’d had a fatal arrhythmia, Bella relieved Sam hadn’t pulled hard enough on the rope for investigators to notice any cuts or abrasions. She’d rubbed lotion on his wrists before anyone had arrived, hoped that’d hide any marks, and assumed it had when no charges were filed.
“I’m sad to hear of Ms. Johnson, your previous teacher, passing on. Hopefully I can be as good as her, maybe better. Now let’s get started. You were working on...”
A small boy with short brown hair in the middle row stood, moved to the door.
“Excuse me, where do you think you’re going?” Bella demanded.
“To take a leak.”
The class laughed. The teacher ran her nails over the chalkboard. All went quiet. Some put hands over ears, including the boy standing.
“That hurts,” he said.
“Good. It’s supposed to.” Bella lowered the hand. “First, you raise your hand if you want something, need to do something, or have a question. Then you stand and say, Miss Christianson, may I or I’d like to...or Can you help me with...or whatever. If you don’t do as instructed...”
The tips of her fingers clacked slate. She ran them all the way down the board. The boy standing sat down and asked for forgiveness.
“Young man, stand up.”
The boy did. Bella asked his name.
“Okay, Tom, what did you need?”
The boy pointed to the door. “The bathroom. I have to use the bath—”
More nails. Everyone cringed.
“Not bathroom. Restroom. You say Miss Christianson, may I use the restroom?”
“Why?” Rock said. “No one rests there.”
Some students chuckled until nails silenced them. Bella pointed. “You listen to me ‘cause we’re doing things my way. I’m the boss, you do as I say. Or else.”
No one inquired as to what Or else meant, all of them nodding.
“Now, Tom. Did you need to use the restroom?”
“Yes. Can...I mean may I?”
“You may.” She waved him to the door. Tom sprinted to it, opened it then slammed it shut.
“Why don’t you slam the damn thing next time,” the teacher muttered. Everyone stared at her, did not blink, their shoulders clenched. “Was joking,” Bella said. “Don’t need broken glass up somebody’s ass.”
The students laughed haltingly and the teacher returned to the class plan, students informing her as to what their teacher had planned next so Bella took over at that point.
“She is hot,” Damon said to Rock as the bell rang. “Weird but hot. And what’s with those nails? Are they the longest things you’ve seen?”
Rock nodded, gathered his books, and stood, suggesting they call the book of World Records. At this Damon laughed and said they weren’t that long but added they were sharp. He put his hands over his ears.
Rock concurred and asked hypothetically as to why the long cuticles. He then looked at his friend, who admitted their new teacher was attractive. He smiled and said he wouldn’t mind losing his virginity to her.
“You mean you haven’t done it yet? Not even with Lilly?”
Rock asserted he had though he felt his face become warm as he spoke, and clarified he wished their new teacher had been his first.
Damon grinned and told Rock to cease with his lie. “I know you. Nothing but a wuss.” He laughed. “Just ask Lilly.”
“Whatever,” Rock said, though his shoulders sagged. “I have a class to go to and I don’t want to be late.
“Since when?” Damon said.
“Since I had a scholarship to think about. See ya.”
“Rock?” Bella asked though her voice had a higher, softer lilt to it.
“Yes, Miss...Miss...I’m sorry, forgot your last name.”
“Christianson. As in Christ. Or Christian. But you can call me Bella.” She smiled like a girl trying to get the most popular boy’s attention. “I’m only your substitute teacher. And class is over till next time.”
“Yes, Miss Christianson. I mean Bella. What did you want?”
She wriggled a finger, requested a conversation with him, and said she’d write a tardy slip for his next class.
“Um...I really have to...” Rock looked to Damon. “He...I...we...”
“It’s okay, buddy.” Damon pushed his friend toward the teacher, and said her student of interest had plenty of time.
Rock glared. Damon waved his pal forward, bade good bye, and winked, advising the other boy not to do anything he wouldn’t.
Rock waited until all other students left then closed the door to the room. Rock was unable to keep his legs in a firm, upright posture as he stammered the teacher’s title and last name then corrected himself, stating her first name in the form of a question.
“Need you to do me a favor. Mind helping?”
“With what?” Rock did not blink.
“Come here.” She motioned to the closet in the corner and said she gathered through observation that he was the strong type. “Thin but strong,” she concluded, moving toward the closet. “Over here. Need your help.” She grabbed his wrist and pulled him quickly to her.
Rock grimaced. Their bodies touched. She put an arm around him then pointed toward the storage area.
“What about it?” Rock looked over his shoulder. The classroom door remained closed and no one was able to view them through the unclear glass. He turned his head and looked to the closet. “For us?”
“Us?” The woman lowered her eyebrows. “What are you talking about? I need you to take that desk next to the closet and move it.”
“Oh. Sure.” Rock picked up the desk and put it where she told him. She gave thanks and grinned the same smile she had when he and Damon had tried to leave. He responded with “You’re welcome” then ran to the door, saying he had to go to class.
Bella checked her watch then displayed index and middle fingers in a V. “Still got a couple of minutes. Besides, most teachers don’t care.” Her smile re-formed as she explained she did, admitted she was strict but said it was due to high expectations for her students. She lectured Rock he could go very far if he applied himself and stopped choosing the easiest solution. “Sometimes the most difficult, longest road is the most beneficial. For me, the higher my demands for my students, the farther they go.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“See ya.” Rock exited but not before she gave her smile and waved, flitted each finger to and fro, the long nails rising and falling.
“Hey,” a voice in the hall said.
Rock sucked in air.
“Down, boy, it’s okay.” Damon clapped his friend’s shoulder, requested details then smirked. “Ya lose your virginity with her? She give the nail treatment for misbehavior?”
“Funny but no on both counts. Had me move a desk, said I looked strong enough to do it.”
“Looked is right. You definitely aren’t strong.”
Rock snarled. Damon argued it was true, bragged he had much larger muscles, flexed his right biceps then held Rock’s arm in like pose, claiming that if she’d really wanted the strongest, she’d have asked Damon. Rock recalled how they’d lifted weights through high school—same weight, same number of repetitions, same everything yet Damon had better muscles. Rock even lifted extra with no development.
“This is unfair.”
“Life’s unfair. Then ya die. Oh well. Now what’d she really want?”
“No, really, tell me.”
“That was it.”
“Didn’t hint at anything else? The desk was a ruse, ya know.”
Rock gave a false chuckle. “For what?”
“Please.” Rock thought of how he’d believed that was exactly what she wanted although she hadn’t given so much as a hint. He pictured the smile she’d displayed before he left yet this made him shudder.
The rest of the day was a blur, the visual replaying in Rock’s mind. She hadn’t really wanted him. Men associated everything with sex anyways: pictures on magazines hide sexual words and images, words and phrases all have intercourse connotations. Mowing the grass, cocksure, pussycat. Plus, she had run her nails on the board at him. He wanted to test a theory though it might mean some pain. The sound of those nails played in his mind. He shuddered then thought about it again, then a third time, a fourth. Each was less painful.
“There,” he said when satisfied. “She won’t scare me tomorrow, I’ll show Damon.”
* * *
The next day, Rock waited for his chance, but Bella lectured the majority of class time and never so much as looked at the board. Minutes before the class bell was to clang, she turned. “Let me show you the formula.”
Rock smiled and raised an arm, an object in hand. He released it. The tomato hit the chalkboard, juices spraying the teacher’s face. More dribbled down the board as students snickered.
Bella turned. “Who did that?”
“Somebody better tell me.”
All quiet. The teacher glared at students. “Rock?”
The boy sat up. “Yes?”
“Do you know who did that?”
“No, Miss Christianson.”
“You’d better tell me.”
“I have no idea.”
“How could you not see it from back there? Tell me.”
Rock folded his arms. “No.”
“You leave me no choice.” A hand rose to the board. Tom covered his ears. Rock leaned back, sighed yet pressed his fingers on each arm, and pressed eyelids tight. Despite his rehearsals, the nails sounded worse than anticipated and his skin hair steeled. He squirmed, buried his digits under his arms, then dug them into his sweatshirt.
“You’d better tell me.” Bella’s arm slid down to the tray.
Rock exhaled. A click on the slate stopped his breathing. The sound on the board continued, her fingers back at the top. Slowly they sank. A higher screech. More students covered their ears. Rock wished to copycat them but had to adhere to his plan so he kept hands and arms where they were.
The teacher stared at him. Rock did the same to her though he expended great energy to keep from convulsing and wished he would stop goosefleshing. His hair remained rigid.
The nails descended as far as they could. Bella lifted the hand and pointed at Rock. “You, young man, are in trouble.”
Rock stood. And nearly collapsed back into his chair. He stiffened his legs, concentrating his eyesight on the teacher, the two of them like outlaws waiting to see who would draw their gun first. “I’ll go to the principal’s office.” He stepped toward the door.
“No you won’t. That’s the sissy way out; won’t let you off that easy.”
Rock flinched at sissy but did not lose his balance. “Then what are you going to do? Make me wash the blackboard, clap erasers? Write one hundred times I will behave in class?”
A few chuckles.
Miss Christianson smirked. “Also too easy. But I’ve already decided and it’s been taken care of.”
Rock eased into his desk, allowing air to exit his nostrils and mouth.
“You’ll see me after class,” the teacher said as the bell rang. Students exhaled as they rose.
“Perfect timing,” the teacher said to Rock, motioning with her finger. “Now.”
Rock looked at Damon who gave an okay sign with his fingers under his desk, stood, and leaned to his buddy. “Now’s your chance. She wants you. Get her. And get her done.” He fanned his face, teased how the room seemed to have heated up, elbowed Rock, and left.
“I hope you have a tardy slip for me,” Rock said when the room was empty other than the two of them.
“Will take care of that, don’t worry. C’mere.”
Rock approached her. She did the same to him, cracked knuckles. He noticed she wore several rings. She curled the fingers of each hand.
The boy stopped, threw his shoulders back.
“I know you did it,” Bella said.
“The tomato. I saw you.”
“If you knew, why did you ask?”
“To test you.”
“Yes, to see if you were with me or them.”
“They’re my friends, I’d never blame them, even if they did it. I’m no wuss.” He straightened his spine.
“At least you try not to be. But this is my class, you must do as told or pay the price.”
“And that price is...”
“Already been paid.”
“Oh really?” Rock thought of the nails and looked down. She still had her fingers curled. “Well, I survived it.”
“Oh, it’s just starting.” Her voice softened. “But you can avoid it.” She smiled and unraveled her fingers. Rock saw the painted floral designs on the cuticles and watched them become clearer in his vision as she put her hands on his shoulders. She told him he could avoid any pain now as well as potential pain if he helped.
Rock watched the hands. “How?”
“By doing this.” She pressed her lips on his. They kissed a few seconds before she pulled away, complimented him on being a nice, handsome young man, and wondered why no girl had taken him.
“One already has.”
“Really?” Bella moved her lips back to his and demanded to know her name.
The door opened. A red headed girl stepped in. Teacher and pupil separated.
“Miss...Christianson? I have to...” The girl observed how close the two were and put her hands on her hips.
Rock gasped. “Lilly, what are you doing here? Your next class is on the other side of the building.”
“Just had a schedule change. I’m now in this class, first hour, same as you.” Lilly lowered her hands, pushed her hair over her shoulders, moved to Rock, and slithered an arm around him. “Isn’t that romantic? You and I, first class of the day. We can walk here together.” She kissed him then glared at the teacher. “And I can keep an eye on things.”
“Things?” Rock did not move though his lower lip quivered.
“What do you mean?” Rock forced his mouth into a semi-circle.
“You know, Rock, honey, your face gives you away. And I saw what happened.”
“Nothing happened, Miss...” Bella moved in front of Lilly.
“Starks. Lilly Starks.”
“Yes, Miss Starks. I was only telling Rock to behave and help. Seems to be the ringleader when it comes to hijinks.”
Lilly scoffed. “Rock, a ringleader? You obviously don’t know him.” She gripped Rock’s neck. “Does she?”
“Uh-uh,” Rock whispered, his shoulders closer to his neck.
Lilly let go. “Good. Now on to why I’m here. Need you to sign this.” She handed the form to the teacher, said she’d be in class the next morning, headed to the door then looked over her shoulder, suggesting her boyfriend hurry or he’d be late.
Bella forced air through closed lips, shifted her head side to side, told Rock he could do better, shut the door, and approached him.
Rock stayed in place.
“Now if you help, we can make great mathematical formulas together. If not, you will suffer. In fact, you already have.”
“Really? I feel fine. Nothing’s gone bad. Well, other than Lilly. But that happens all the time.”
Voices clamoring outside the door distracted them as did the tardy bell.
“Excuse me, I have a class to teach,” Bella said, handed him the late slip. “And you have one to go to. Bye.” She pecked his cheek.
Rock felt hypnotized until she pushed him ahead. He padded to the door, looked back, and watched her wave, flicking her fingers up and down in succession. The gesture excited him until he saw the grin—not a come hither smile but one redolent of a wicked witch. He opened the door, heard her susurrate, bye, and nearly ran into a large boy.
“Hey, Eller, watch where you’re going or I’ll kick your ass.” The boy was a defensive lineman on the football team.
“Yeah, right,” Rock mumbled.
The boy pushed him. Rock stumbled, bumped into other kids and, in a hurry, did not challenge nor look at this student. He fought his way through the crowd, his head like weights were pressing on it from both sides. He staggered into his next class and had trouble handing the tardy paper to Mr. Swearingen. He then weaved his way to his desk where he nearly fell on the floor.
“We okay this morning?” the teacher asked.
“Yes,” Rock forced, hardly able to move his lips.
“We haven’t been drinking, have we? Or were we out late last night? It was a school night, ya know.”
“Yes sir. Just don’t feel well right now.”
“Need to go to the nurse?”
“No. Only have a headache, it coming on at the end of first hour, I’ll be fine.” He rubbed his temples.
Mr. Swearingen began his lecture. For Rock, it seemed the minute hand on the classroom clock kept being pushed back. Finally, the bell rang although Rock knew he wasn’t going to his next class, rubbed his head, and hoped he’d make it home without becoming ill. His mom wouldn’t be back from work until three and his dad was out of town so he could go right to sleep. On his way out, he spotted Damon and told him where he was going and why.
“You? Ill? You never get sick.”
“I know.” Rock gave a weak chuckle. “Been at least two years since I puked. Wanted to extend that record.” He gagged. “Now I don’t know.”
“Need me to take you?”
“I can manage.”
“If you say so.” Damon tapped his phone. “Call if you can’t.”
“Thanks,” Rock groaned, weaved to the old blue Ford pick-up his dad had helped him buy and drove home, aware this was one of the few times he needn’t worry about an officer writing him a speeding ticket. Reckless driving, DUI, perhaps, though a breathalyzer would debunk the latter assumption. He told himself to be careful.
Climbing the stairs to his bedroom made him wish they had a one story home. By the time he reached the top step, he was on his knees. At his room, he had just enough stamina to lift himself onto the bed, whereupon he fell asleep.
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