Chapter two – Disturbance
Lunch break was almost over by the time Tolson finally let me go. His constant preaching still rang in my ears and the punishment he gave me made my mood plummet quickly.
Even though the bell could ring any time now, it was still busy in the cafeteria. I saw most of my classmates sitting and eating while laughing and talking to each other, but the thing that ticked me off was the seemingly empty food counter. Looks like I waited too long and the food had run out for the day.
It was then that I saw Ethan sitting at the table on the left. He was talking with the girl opposite of him, but his bowl was still untouched and there was a second bowl right next to his seat. The chair was empty.
I smiled. He was a sweet friend.
‘Thanks for saving some for me,’ I said, seating myself next to Ethan. He immediately began to eat.
‘No problem. So? How was it?’
‘I have to skip P.E. and clean up the cafeteria instead,’ I growled. ‘And he’s going to let me stay one more hour after school to clean up his classroom, too. Oh, and I have to write lines for about ten pages.’
‘Berryhole. And you weren’t even that late. Amber and Priscilla had only come in five minutes before you.’
We spent the last five minutes barely talking, as we had to finish our mac ‘n cheese quickly or we wouldn’t be able to finish it at all. Just as I laid down my spoon for the last bite, the chime rang again.
‘I have to go,’ Ethan said. ‘See you back in class?’
‘Yeah. Have fun, Nut.’
‘It’s Almond, Eves.’
I watched him get up, wink at me and leave the cafeteria. Of course he left his empty bowl behind. I was irritated for just a second, but then figured it would probably get cleaned faster this way.
There were an awful lot of dirty plates to clean…
I let out a small sigh and got to work. Might as well get it over with. Balancing the plates on one hand, I kept stapling them until the pile became heavy and then walked over to the sink.
Holding the mountain of plates as far away from me as possible, I turned the tap and let the sink fill itself with water. When it was full I dropped the plates in and cursed Tolson for not letting me use the dishwasher.
Last night was catching up on me. Why was it that every time I had that nightmare, I felt so tired, even though I’d been sleeping all night long? It sure wasn’t helping my studies, as well.
I shook my head violently to get rid of the drowsiness and concentrated on the window. My gaze happened to fall on the empty playground.
I screamed and backed away from the window. What was that?! There was something in the playground – something weird!
Wait… there was nothing there. Just an empty playground.
… was I going crazy?
I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down and brought my hand to my head again. This was really getting out of hand. Being tired was one thing, but hallucinating because of a lack of sleep was just plain disturbing. I was going to hit the hay early today.
After that, I couldn’t focus on school work anymore. My mind kept getting back to the vision I saw in the playground. Had that been real? Or had I just imagined it? And if it was real, what the hell was it? I’d gone through other… disturbing daydreams and nightmares before, but not like this.
Tolson noticed my absentmindedness, and kept preaching that he would have a serious talk with my father soon if I wouldn’t get my act together. I tried my best to ignore him. Even though he was my home teacher, we didn’t exactly… get along.
At five p.m., I was finally allowed to leave. The school bus was parked in the parking lot and long since empty. I would have to walk all the way home again.
By the time I finally saw my front door coming up, it was already past dinnertime. I greeted Milow with a quick pat on the head and then proceeded to walk inside, ready to collapse on the floor out of fatigue.
Dad was in the kitchen, cleaning up. He had a frown in his face and looked at me worryingly.
‘You should call me when you’re not back for dinner. I was getting worried about you. Where have you been?’
‘Sorry, dad,’ I apologised. ‘Tolson made me stay longer because I missed the bus.’
‘Did you explain why you missed it?’ Dad asked.
‘Yeah, but since it was the third time, he put me in detention anyway.’
‘In that case… I might have something to solve that problem.’
Dad grinned and reached behind him, pulling out a big present in wrappings.
‘Your new alarm clock. Just in case Milow ends up sleeping in again.’
‘Aw, dad, you didn’t have to do that!’ I smiled, forgetting my moodiness. ‘I know money is tight. You should save what you have for really important things.’
‘I think my daughter is important enough,’ he said. ‘Besides, this is going to help me keep my job. They’re getting quite mad at me over there, too.’
‘You’re welcome, sweetheart.’
We ate a late dinner together, after which dad disappeared into his bedroom with a book and I made myself comfortable in front of the TV. I still had homework for tomorrow… but that could wait until later. My favourite show was about to begin. I’d just picked up the remote control to change channels when the screen already changed by itself.
‘We apologise for interrupting your channel; this is David Barton and Gus Kendra streaming a late-night broadcast in Sunset Valley. At twelve thirty in the afternoon, Gerry Custard has been abducted from the Sunny Val elementary school. Eye witnesses claim the culprit, whose face was hidden by a mask, drove by the playground in a white van and dragged him in. Now showing a photo of Gerry- go ahead, Gus.’
‘Thank you, David. Gerry Custard is nine years old with black, half-long hair. He was last seen wearing a cloth jacket, trousers and sneakers. If there are people who have any information about Gerry or have seen him in the past twelve hour, please contact the local police office or the number…’
I knew that boy. I’d seen him before… somewhere. But where?
I didn’t know what to do.
I couldn’t talk to dad about it. I couldn’t focus on my homework. Ethan didn’t pick up his cell phone. The image of the boy in the playground and the photo of Gerry kept appearing in front of my eyes. It was the same boy. I knew it for certain. How I was so sure of that I didn’t know, but deep down I just knew the white figure I saw and the Gerry on the photo were one and the same person.
‘If there are people who have any information about Gerry or have seen him in the past twelve hour, please contact the local police office…’
Yeah, right. And what was I supposed to say?
‘Sorry to bother you, but I just saw a transparent version of the boy you’re looking for because I’m tired.’
Even in my mind it sounded ridiculous. But then what was I supposed to do? Ignore what I saw, do nothing? Maybe pretend it never even happened?
‘Argh, I don’t know what to do!’ I yelled out loud, and dropped the pencil. No way that I was going to be able to make any homework. Not after this.
‘I’m going to bed. Maybe this will just turn out to be another stupid dream.’
I nodded to myself, shoved back my chair and walked up the stairs. Going to sleep early would do me well. I had a lot of rest to catch up on, anyway. If I was properly rested tomorrow, these weird illusions would probably go away as well. Yes, a good night’s sleep was just what I needed.
But not before unwrapping dad’s gift and placing it next to my bedside. I hadn’t bought anything for myself for months, other than clothes when it was really necessary. Money really was an issue at home, because of the huge loans dad had from when I was still living at aunt Cathy and Julian’s place. Therefore him spending money on something like this meant more than an outsider might realise.
Typical dad. Worrying about me more than about himself. I smiled at the alarm clock and then turned away from it, undressing and searching for a set of pyjamas.
There was an owl just outside of my window. I could hear its cries as I crawled into bed and turned off the lights. Listening to the bird for a few minutes calmed me down. Eventually my eyes closed on their own and I drifted away into slumber.
I don’t want to go through… help me…
DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!
My eyes opened automatically and I pushed the blanket off of my arms. The unknown voice still rang in my ears. It was a boy’s voice.
That vision in the playground. The photo on the television. And now this.
That did it.
‘Milow, get up. We’re going for a walk.’